On Leadership and Responsibility

With the beginning of the second semester in sight on Friday, January 23, Middlesex juniors gathered for an evening chapel to initiate thinking about their senior year and, especially, the leadership roles that will be theirs in a matter of months.  Along with Cabell King, the School’s director of spiritual and ethical education, the class was joined by an engaging guest speaker, the Reverend John H. Finley IV.

Eminently qualified to address the topic of leadership and social responsibility, Mr. Finley is the co-founder and head of Epiphany School, a tuition-free, independent middle school for children of economically disadvantaged families from Boston neighborhoods. Since establishing Epiphany in 1997, Mr. Finley has helped launch 19 similar schools across the country.  In his vocation as an Episcopal priest, he serves the parish of St. Mary’s in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and is also affiliated with the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill.

As a graduate of Groton School, Mr. Finley told the juniors that he felt as though he had “been where you are,” and in the years since his Harvard graduation, he has found work that is both greatly needed and highly rewarding. Because at-risk students’ test scores start to decline in the fourth and fifth grades in the Boston area, it was clear to him that an intensive middle school program might make a difference in the long-term success of those children. To that end, Epiphany’s school day is long – from 6:00 a.m. to 7:50 p.m. – and includes classes, sports, three meals, and homework support during an academic year spanning 11 months.

In addition, Mr. Finley said that Epiphany works closely with students’ families to gain their trust and to make education a shared endeavor. Given the small enrollment of 90 students (chosen by lottery), he affirmed, “We know each other well and are committed to each other.” Even after students graduate, Epiphany continues to help its alumni with securing summer jobs, SAT preparation, and, later, full-time employment. At least 70 percent of Epiphany graduates finish college in four years; 85 percent graduate in six years.

Adhering to Epiphany’s policy of never expelling a student can be a challenge, Mr. Finley acknowledged. But after nearly 20 years on the job, he affirmed, “I love what I do. It’s not just about lifting up kids; it’s about lifting yourself up. I have learned a lot about myself. It can be really hard not to give up on a kid; but, all kids want to have a good day, and you have to figure out how to make that happen.”

With his characteristic optimism and warmth, Mr. Finley urged the juniors to “find work for others,” adding, “You guys really are amazing, bright, and talented. You can be in any position. I encourage you to be liberal and generous with what you have. Figure out how you can serve others – it is most rewarding.”