Reflection: The Chapel program is not what I expected, and that's a good thing

The mysterious allure of Peddie’s Chapel program really stuck with me on my tour of Peddie when applying three years ago. I couldn’t grasp why Peddie students spoke so highly of it. Both my Tour Guide and my Revisit Day host explained how, twice a week, students and faculty spoke and performed in front of the school. They seemed enthusiastic about it, but I still assumed it would just be like the school assemblies in my middle school. I called them "glorified lectures" and was not particularly fond of them.

Inside the Chapel

While Peddie was founded in the Baptist tradition, it has long been unaffiliated. The Chapel program is a gathering space that celebrates all faith traditions and, more broadly, the diversity of culture, experience and thought of the entire community.

Moreover, as a Jewish student, being required to go to a Chapel every Monday and Friday didn’t sit well with me. Despite knowing that Peddie was proudly unaffiliated, I still couldn’t help associating a “Chapel” with Christianity. I was drawn to Peddie for many reasons — its vibrant community, esteemed faculty and great academics — but my worries about Chapel carried over from the summer to the start of my freshman year.

Convocation, a ceremony marking the start of a new academic year, took place in Chapel on the very first class day. I found myself sitting in my assigned seat next to other nervous freshmen, with the sophomores in front of us, juniors further forward and seniors right next to the platform where students speak and perform. I was still uncertain about it.

Head of School Peter Quinn speaks at Convocation in Ayer Memorial Chapel at The Peddie School

Head of School Peter Quinn addresses the community during Convocation, the formal beginning to the academic year.

A few weeks later, our tech director Mr. Bennett’s gave a speech that changed my mind. The first week in November is our spirit week. That Monday, Mr. Bennett told us a very funny story about a youth soccer team that he helped coach and how — despite not having any wins the whole season — they played hard enough to win the final game. The speech, humorous as it was, motivated and hyped everyone up for Peddie-Blair Day, including new students like me, who didn't really know what Blair Day was all about yet. 

At the time, I was on Peddie’s thirds’ soccer team, and we had won only one or two games that whole season. However, days after Mr. Bennett’s speech, on Peddie-Blair Day, our team did the unthinkable and won. Not only that, but our win prevented a Peddie loss of the prized Potter-Kelly Cup.

After that, I began to look forward to going to Chapel. The best part for me is hearing my friends and classmates speak their minds to the entire Peddie community, through music or with their words.

Initially, I couldn't fathom why Peddie students actually wanted to deliver a speech or perform for a hundreds of people. After two years at Peddie, I think I understand now. Speaking at Chapel isn’t about delivering the most moving speech ever or performing the most beautiful song. It’s about sharing your thoughts with the greater Peddie community, free of judgment. Before becoming a Falcon, I would have never even thought about giving a speech like that. I felt I would be putting myself “out there” too much if I were to speak to such a large crowd.

Speaking at Chapel isn’t about delivering the most moving speech ever or performing the most beautiful song. It’s about sharing your thoughts with the greater Peddie community, free of judgment.”

Attending a huge public school without a real sense of community, made me hesitant to share my thoughts or opinions with people I didn’t know. I felt that I would be making myself too vulnerable. 

But at Peddie, I was a part of a very strong, welcoming community where students felt comfortable sharing their opinions and thoughts, even with those who they don’t know. So when I received an email last fall from Peddie’s Chaplain, Mr. Onion, about speaking at Chapel, I found myself considering the invitation, and, with encouragement from my friends and the faculty, I surprised myself.  I spoke to the entire Peddie community about the Jewish New Year and how all Peddie students (Jewish or not) could apply the holiday’s values of self-improvement, growth and “sweetness” to their life. 

Following the speech, I received compliments and praise from friends, but, more surprisingly, students and teachers I didn’t even know also sought me out with compliments. Speaking at Chapel allowed me to recognize not only how great Peddie’s Chapel program is, but also how great the Peddie community is. When my peers and Peddie faculty sought me out to compliment me, I felt good about “putting myself out there.” This led me to step out of my comfort zone in other areas and start to become more of a leader at Peddie;  I have become a Head Tour Guide, a Prefect, the leader of Peddie’s Jewish Heritage Club, and a Junior Writing Fellow. To be honest, I am not sure if I would be in these leadership roles if it were not for the way Chapel program helped me really understand  the benefits of Peddie’s wonderful community.

I hope to continue to put myself out there and try my best to be a vocal leader in our community. I spoke at Chapel about Rosh Hashanah again this year, but this time, with other members of the Jewish Heritage Club. These experiences have made it clear to me that the Peddie community is what makes Chapel special, while, conversely, Chapel is part of the reason why the Peddie community is special itself. Chapel provides Peddie students with the opportunity to find the courage to speak and perform in front of the student body, while also influencing us to support and encourage one another in finding our voices.

Tyler spoke in Chapel via Zoom this fall, sharing how the principles behind Rosh Hashanah can be relevant to all people.