Germantown Friends’ Head of School Richard L. Wade, who will be retiring at the end of June, takes the stage on April 6 at an event celebrating his 20 years of visionary leadership. (Photo by Michael Branscom)

by Kevin Dicciani

On April 6, Germantown Friends School held the Richard L. Wade Celebration, a ceremony honoring Head of School Richard “Dick” Wade, who is retiring at the end of the semester after 20 years of service to the school.

He was joined by his family onstage in front of hundreds of students, parents, alumni and community members.

The spirited celebration was hosted by two GFS alumni, NBC reporter Kristen Welker (’94) and Dan Shotz (’95), writer and producer of the hit television show “Jericho,” and author of the New York Time’s bestselling graphic novel, “Continuing the Jericho Story.” The two were members of the first two graduating classes during Wade’s tenure.

Welker explained the significance of the event:

“Today we honor a man who has continued a legacy of great men who came before him, by leading GFS through recessions, global change, into the 21st Century with an open mind for its technology, progression and infrastructure. There are six new facilities that have been built under Dick Wade’s tenure. In the last 20 years, GFS has won 76 Friend’s League championships. That is incredible.”

“This place,” she continued, “continues to be one of the highest-grade, top-tier institutions in the country that is just simply lucky for having had Dick Wade. Dick we are sending you off knowing that this school is better, stronger, and ready to face whatever lies ahead.”

Shotz joked about Wade’s departure, saying that “It’s the end of time.”

From 1994 to this year’s graduating class, Wade has handed out 1,789 diplomas to students, which, Shotz said, is a testament to Wade’s “incredible reach.”

Elissa Sunshine and Michael Williamson, of GFS’s art department, joined the stage to present a portrait of Wade painted by Paul DuSold, artist and instructor at Woodmere.

Before unveiling the amazing portrait, Sunshine recalled the words of Albert Einstein: “Try not to be a man of success, but a man of value.”

“And it’s obvious,” she added, “Dick has been a man of value and he is a man of value. And therefore, he has been a great success.”

A slide show followed highlighting Wade’s contributions to the community and the school, with photos from Wade’s early days at GFS to his most recent.

One of the guest speakers, 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, representing Northwest Philadelphia, said Wade “did very valuable work at GFS – very valuable work.”

“And it really should not be understated,”she added. “It should be commended. And I just want to thank you for all you have done.”

Bass then presented Wade with the Cliveden Heritage Award on behalf of Philadelphia City Council, recognizing Wade’s contributions to the Germantown community, saying that he exemplified the award’s purpose, which is to “create vibrant communities through education, preservation and engagement.”

Faculty member Florence Battis Mini spoke of how Wade embodied the school’s values and was responsible for its flourishing diversity. She commended Wade for his ability to make tough decisions in the face of adversity, saying that he brought two great gifts to GFS:

“One, his unflappable commitment to discourse as the solution to conflict. Two, his willingness to commit resources to support faculty and students, and learning more not only about academic issues, but also about Quakerism and diversity in our city.”

“His mantra has been, ‘At GFS, we talk about the tough issues.’ When tempers flare, Dick keeps the space safe for discourse,” Mini said.

Mary Ann Case, former chair of the Parents Association and a parent of four GFS graduates, said the culture of the school is often defined by its head.

“For twenty years, the parents of nearly 2,500 students have been fortunate to have Dick Wade at the helm of this most remarkable school,” she said. “We’ve all benefited from his commitment to education excellence, his courage in grappling with difficult issues and his good humor when leading a community.”

Case said Wade has always maintained that the school’s mission was “to seek truth, challenge the intellect, honor differences, embrace the city and nourish each student’s mind, body and spirit.”

Christopher Nicholson, a GFS Clerk Emeritus, added that the one word that appropriately defines Wade’s leadership was “creativity.” He attributed the school’s positive atmosphere to Wade’s “love of the job, the school and the community.”

Finally, an emotional Wade took to the podium in front of the standing, applauding crowd. Over the cheers and celebratory whistling, Wade said that even though 20 years is a long stretch of time, the ceremony helped bring all of the fond memories he experienced at GFS to the forefront of his mind.

Wade then went on tt explain what GFS has meant to him over the years.

“Families are built on generations,” he said. “So are schools. And when I think about Germantown Friends School, and we think about our school, we should remember that we helped write a chapter in the great narrative of our school. The GFS narrative, I think, always has two pieces to it. One is certainly Quakerism and the Quaker value system that is so deep in our culture. The second is faculty, some of whom have been here longer than I have. And that’s a great narrative.”

Wade closed by answering his own question: “What does the future look like for GFS”?

“Bright,” he said. “Why am I so confident? Because of the people in this room. Thank you.”

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