This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on June 16, 1994.
Last year, as part of the quest for news coverage, Abington Friends School mailed out notices of the time, date, and place of its graduation ceremonies, and the names of the seniors.
This year, commencement details were closely guarded secrets.
What a difference a teen idol makes.
Joey Lawrence, who plays Joey Russo on NBC’s Blossom, donned cap and gown Friday night and graduated with the Abington Friends School Class of 1994.
The presence of a TV star presented more than a few challenges. But the school was glad to oblige Lawrence, who started attending in kindergarten and was elected president of the ninth grade during the 1990-91 school year.
“We wanted it to be a ceremony for 45 kids, not just one,” said Carole Palmer, the Upper School dean. But no one knew how many curiosity-seekers would show up, she said.
So the campus became a small encampment with dark-suited security agents, a few uniformed police officers, an NBC Entertainment senior press manager, and a reporter and photographers from People magazine.
But the commencement proceeded normally. And Joseph Lawrence 3d was the student in the back row with the California tan.
Graduation arrangements were the culmination of the long-distance education of Joey Lawrence, creatively designed and carried out by the faculty at Abington Friends.
Palmer said other students, including a traveling equestrian this year, had received the same consideration. It was important to Lawrence and his family, she said, that he complete his education at Abington Friends. In fact, Palmer said, it was Lawrence who asked that his younger brother Matthew, who appears in the film Mrs. Doubtfire, have a similar school experience.
“He valued that,” said Palmer. “I credit the parents. They were not willing to give this up for Joey, and neither was he.”
“Education at Abington Friends School is vivid and memorable,” said Donna Lawrence, Joey’s mother. “The focus is not just academics, but the whole child as well. They have an outstanding faculty.”
When Joey Lawrence, now 18, was in the television show Gimme a Break, he spent less time at school but was present “in chunks,” Palmer said. When Blossom was picked up when Joey was in ninth grade, a more long-distance approach was arranged. Palmer learned to send books and material by Federal Express so the package would not show that it was coming from Abington Friends or was going to be delivered to Lawrence.
“We used a correspondence-course format” for the Abington Friends curriculum, she said. NBC tutors did the teaching, but all papers and tests were graded by Abington Friends faculty.
There were some snags. In 10th grade, Palmer said, there was a problem getting science lab space in Los Angeles. “A chemistry lab was out of the question, so we gave him alternate assignments,” she said.
As part of the fine-arts curriculum, Lawrence was expected to make a video. But because video cameras were not allowed on studio property, he could not complete that part of the coursework on the set.
While studying Greek, French, and Latin, Lawrence sent audio tapes to the school. Fax machines were used for other assignments.
“He is an exceptional student and got all high grades,” said Palmer. “We adapted only where we needed to adapt. Everything went through the curriculum committee, as it always does.”
Abington Friends teachers often worked evening hours, conferring with tutors on California time.
“The tutors often remarked on how demanding the program was,” Palmer said. One tutor accompanied the Lawrence family to graduation. “She said there was nothing like this kind of education on the West Coast.”
At commencement, Lawrence was one of eight seniors who addressed the class.
“I am and always will be a part of what we had here,” he said. “Though the events of my life removed me from physical contact with this school, I have never been shut off from its influence … I have always felt I was a part of what was happening and always a part of my school.”
Any senior who wanted to speak at graduation was permitted to turn in a draft speech by May 14, Palmer said. “Eight turned in speeches, and eight spoke,” she said.