Interim President Constance Hungerford's Charge to John Alston

John Alston

John Alston, you are a visionary, musician, a committed and creative educator, and beloved community member. You are the founder and director of the Chester Children’s Chorus, offering an unparalleled opportunity for many children to cultivate their musical abilities and flourish as confident individuals. You are founder and president of The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, the sponsor and funding arm of The Chester Charter School for the Arts, the second product of your tireless effort and energy, and a monumental source of inspiration for all of us present today.

As you grew up in northern New Jersey, your musicianship took hold at an early age. Your singing in the Newark Boys’ Chorus supplied an experience you greatly credit for launching you towards a musical career and one that would, in fact, later serve as its own inspiration for your focus on the youth of Chester.

As a young man studying music at Yankton College, at the University of Northern Iowa, and then Indiana University for your doctorate, you formed the basis of the professional musician you had aspired to be since seventh grade.

In 1990, you began your 23 years of teaching at Swarthmore College as Associate Professor of Music.

Applying your passion within the College community, you led the College Chorus and College Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra and taught music notation and theory and jazz improvisation. Always demanding the attentiveness to the rich context of the music and text, your choral leadership instilled new depths of appreciation and meaning in numerous students, faculty, and staff.

Your early years at Swarthmore sparked new awareness and motivated you to pursue a new direction in your life. The juxtaposition of the town of Swarthmore and the City of Chester, only several miles apart, broadened and focused your understanding of the social, economic and political consequences of deeply troubled race relations in the United States.

In 1994, you started the Chester Children’s Chorus with only seven members and only an inkling of its true purpose. More than 20 years later, the Chorus now reflects an impressive and refined educational vision with over 140 strong, ages 8 to 18.

Inspired to address the gap in opportunities between the children of Chester and others more privileged, you founded The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts in 2005 to provide the children of Chester with access to superior educational programming. Three years later, you and your colleagues in the community formed the Chester Upland School of the Arts in partnership with the Chester Upland School District to ensure that your students would receive an excellent academic and arts education.

In 2012, after drastic state funding cuts and reaching the limits of the public school partnership, you led The Chester Fund to sponsor the creation of The Chester Charter School for the Arts, ultimately to become a K-12 school, an institution dedicated to expanding the intellectual and cultural horizons of its community of students, with plans to enroll over 700 of them by 2018.

Your life’s work speaks to the importance of redefining community so that it embraces us all. Your inclusive vision spans generations, institutions, and communities and broadcasts inspiration in every direction. Your devotion to uplifting generations of youth, and the insistence that we at Swarthmore thoroughly involve ourselves in the betterment of all, proves the depth and strength of your truly remarkable vision and character.

Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Arts.