Editorial: Reflections on Founder’s Day trigentennial celebration

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TO SOME, it may seem elitist: a school coming together in a college auditorium, everyone in business-casual attire, celebrating what makes us great.

In truth, that only scratches the surface of what Founder’s Day is about. Both students and school faculty look forward to it every year, as a day to take a step back from the grind of the collateral-test-homework cycle and celebrate Townsend Harris’ legacy — one that is, objectively, fairly impressive. From fostering a connection with a community on the other side of the world to offering free, quality education to students in New York City, our school’s founder and namesake provided us with a remarkable platform, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging it.

Now 30 years after our reopening and 110 years after the doors of the original school were opened in Manhattan, THHS has created a legacy that continues the aims of the school’s founders and adapts them to the society in which we now live.

Much of what gives THHS its impressive reputation comes from statistics: graduation rates, college-readiness levels, our lofty AP exam passing rate, and our highly selective admissions process. We’re all familiar with the yearly publications that list the top high schools in the city, state, and country, and we can certainly take pride in helping to make these numbers so competitive.

However, there’s more to a good school than what the numbers can represent, and it’s worth recognizing how the values of our past — and current — community leaders shape the academic and social environment we know so well. As Assistant Principal of Humanities Rafal Olechowski explained, “When we do this, we take the time out of our busy lives to look at why we are so busy.”

Founder’s Day gives us an opportunity to appreciate our school in our own right, rather than in comparison to others.

The annual ceremony is a time when students and faculty can unabashedly appreciate how the virtues of civic duty, leadership, ambition, and curiosity make our school the place we know it to be. It’s a day when we can come together to appreciate the talent our students and teachers have to offer, be it musical, artistic, or dramatic.

The annual ceremony is the only time everyone in the school can find themselves in the same place, as the school’s cafeteria and auditorium are too small to hold the entire student body. Thus, Founder’s Day gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate as a full school and consider the ways in which past and present students, staff, and faculty have contributed to giving us a valuable education.

The presence of alumni, former teachers, and community representatives helps us remember the success of many in the Harrisite community, and remind us that we have the same — if not better — a time for everyone in the school to simply have fun: with the work we get on a daily basis in THHS, having a day to relax and enjoy ourselves together is a rare luxury. To outsiders, it might seem like a nothing more than a self-congratulatory bragging session — but THHS has a valuable tradition, history, and community, and especially on the 30th anniversary of our school’s reopening, we Harrisites deserve to celebrate it.