#CeaselessDevotion: Dan Walker

Friday, July 31, 2020
Dan Walker

For Dan Walker, humor is often a necessary tool for dealing with a difficult situation. As the grade dean for the Class of 2020, his job was to support the seniors from the start of the school year right through Commencement, and when COVID-19 made it impossible for the seniors to spend their final spring term together and walk across the graduation platform, Walker knew he needed to keep the seniors connected. He did it through humor.

“Mr. Walker’s enthusiasm and positive attitude have been infectious during the virtual term,” says Jack Kothari ’20, vice president of the senior class council. “As the grade dean for the senior class, he has advocated for and supported us during this uncertain and difficult time. He has pursued innovative ideas like ‘Some Good Mercersburg News’ and has certainly been devoted to giving the seniors the best experience possible.”

Based on actor John Krasinski’s YouTube show “Some Good News,” Walker wondered if he could do something similar by asking different seniors a few quick questions via a recorded video chat, have a few laughs, and then end on a serious note: What do you miss most right now? He firmly believed that humor and the ability to listen would be key to helping everyone cope during this time.

“I grew a mustache through the entire spring term, shaving it on graduation morning,” says Walker. “If there were a prize for the world’s worst mustache, I would have run away with it. The only rules going into my interviews were that each interviewee would have to compliment my mustache and then, at some point, make fun of my mustache. That was what kind of broke the ice in each interview and remained a bit of a focal point.”  

Walker shared his videos with the seniors on Instagram. Starting halfway through the spring term, he aimed for one a week, and before long, the senior class began suggesting names for who should be interviewed next. Walker notes that the suggested names weren’t a popularity contest. Instead, students might contact him and say, “I didn’t know this person well, but I miss his positivity on campus. Could you interview him?” 

And it’s not just the seniors who were paying attention. As Dylan Gantt ’21 notes, “During these tough times, Mr. Walker decided to begin a sort of interview series with seniors to talk about the good news in their lives that may seem mundane but is something we all need when most of our news is pretty negative and anxiety inducing.”  

Walker has had requests to continue the interview series, and he has several names lined up.

Outside of “Some Good Mercersburg News,” Walker maintained connection with the seniors throughout the spring by meeting regularly with the officers on both the Student Council and the Senior Class Council to help ensure that what mattered most to them—like experiencing the Moving Up Ceremony—could still happen in our new virtual world. He also tried to personally call as many seniors as he could.

“I wish I could have done more,” says Walker. “Weirdly, I really felt like the interviews were the best way to reach out to the entirety of the senior class. I knew almost all of the seniors were members of the Instagram site, so I thought I’d be able to express my compassion and love for the whole class through individual interviews. They would know that I was always thinking of them and truly empathized with their situation, and I think we had some success with that.”

Walker is also quick to point out that during a spring term where it would have been easy to feel down on themselves and just give up, the senior class kept pushing to support Mercersburg and make a difference for future classes. He champions their work ethic and their drive for positive changes as their legacy. “They could have just ridden it out, and no one would have blamed them,” says Walker. “Their senior spring—the capstone of their Mercersburg career—gets taken away from them. They could have given up, and in so many ways they dusted themselves off, picked themselves up, and moved forward, and just that alone is a credit to their determination and perseverance.”

Looking toward next year, Walker says he is approaching the fall with the idea that we all will adapt. “There is so much out of our control that we’ll see what we can do, and then we’ll make a plan,” he says. “And when that plan changes, we’ll do the best we can with the next plan.”

With the graduation of the Class of 2020, Walker will become the grade dean for the incoming ninth graders (the Class of 2024), and he’s already thinking about how their introduction to Mercersburg will be very different in light of COVID-19: “How are we able to bring this group together and give them the special experience that Mercersburg has given the Class of 2020 and classes before that? For me personally, it’s usually through humor and the ability to laugh at myself a little bit and find humor in a difficult situation.”

And as for the Class of 2020? “They are my friends now,” Walker says, “and I can’t wait to see them at their in-person graduation and at Reunion Weekend and sit back and talk about what this year was like.”