Portrait of a Graduate

Like many independent schools, Harrisburg Academy is fortunate to have its high school graduates return to share their news and experiences. Recent graduates report a sense of relief when discussing their transition to college, and they share how much they appreciate having the opportunity to be educated at the best private school in Central Pennsylvania.  They state that they are more than prepared for college; and in fact, most students share that college academic courses are not just manageable, but easy. Our alumni report that they’ve “aced” course placement tests, and not just in their favorite subjects. Another area where our alumni give themselves high marks compared to their fellow college students is time management.

As a student's Academy learning journey is nearing its end, the International Baccalaureate Diploma program, and the integrated curriculum upon which it is built, provide our students with critical thinking skills to learn the HOW and WHY of their education, and not just the facts they need for the next test. This knowledge proves to be invaluable once these students have matriculated to college.  The International Baccalaureate Diploma program is based upon worldwide standards – something that ensures our students are being prepared not only to succeed in college but to compete on a global level in the 21st century.


Jimmy Adams '95: Self-made Self-Awareness with a Side of Grits

Waffle Street Book SigningMillions in the United States and abroad were affected when the economy faltered in late 2008, but few revisit those days in the manner James “Jimmy” Adams ’95 does — on a 90-by-30-foot screen.

Adams lost his prestigious management position with a major financial industry player unexpectedly at the height of the economic crisis. At that moment, so much did not feel right to him. In a flash of cathartic awareness and acceptance of the professional burnout he felt, Adams sought to renew himself by working an “honest” blue-collar job. This opportunity came to him by way of a local 24-hour waffle diner, which hired him to wait tables, assist with food preparation, run the cash register, and clean the facility when needed.

These new and somewhat comical experiences in food service were a welcome change to Adams and provided the basis of the book he later penned, “Waffle Street: The Confession and Rehabilitation of a Financier.”

Seven years later, Adams has found balance, working again in the financial services industry but simultaneously taking on the role of movie industry entrepreneur. His memoir-now-turned-movie, also titled “Waffle Street,” is gracing the big screen at film festivals across the country, racking up awards (Best Feature at the Hollywood Film Festival, Audience Award for Best Feature at the Red Rock Film Festival), and waiting to be distributed to wider channels.

“I am proud that I stuck my neck out and did something different, and now it appears to be paying off in new ways,” Adams said.

After the book was finished and released, screenwriter Autumn McAlpin contacted Adams and said she wanted to make it into a movie.

They later pulled in John J. Kelly, producer of the recent movie, “Divergent,” for their production team, and Eshom and Ian Nelms to serve as directors of the film. When actors James Lafferty and Danny Glover signed on for the lead roles, Adams finally allowed himself to believe the movie would be produced and find commercial success. Even so, he remains modest and reflective.

“The whole experience from the start has been very humbling because I was laid off twice and fired once in the space of six years,” Adams said. “I grew up the son and grandson of two self-made businessmen. I always wanted to be like my dad, and I couldn’t even keep a job. It demoralizes you, and I had hit bottom. I had found corporate ladders to either be termite-infested or covered in grease, and I was done with them. I just wanted to clear my head and do something different for a while, and people [his restaurant co-workers] seemed to really respect that.

“The only one who really questioned me was Robert, the head cook,” Adams continued. “He paid a lot of attention and was trying to discern my motivations —he thought I was playing dumb. But I can actually be really inept! It wasn’t an act,” Adams said of his many missteps while learning the ropes of the restaurant business.

Even so, Robert’s character was the one who really brought the movie together, Adams thinks. “People like role models, and his is a particularly compelling one. We’re still in touch every few weeks and he’s been a great supporter of the book and movie.”

Adams credits Harrisburg Academy and retired Upper School English teacher, Dr. Lee March, specifically, as additional supporters who helped him cultivate his writing skills and gave him the ability to tackle such a large and personal project. “The thing that Dr. March taught me was that even if you have a lot of great ideas, you have to organize them in a coherent, meaningful way,” Adams said. “I learned how to edit my own writing as a result of working with her. At the Academy, you learn how to work and to approach things critically.”

Guests at the Academy’s Alumni Weekend last October were able to meet Adams at a book signing event and celebrate his success while enjoying an exclusive screening of “Waffle Street” in McCormick Auditorium. March was in attendance, supporting one of her favorite former students. “Jimmy was always an engaged participant in his classes; I particularly enjoyed his sparkling wit and willingness to challenge any assumptions,” March said. “His ability to distinguish right from wrong in his estimation was remarkable for one so young.”

In the footsteps of his family, Adams has always wanted to build his own business and now he is getting his chance, in the most unlikely of circumstances. “That’s the great thing about movies,” Adams said. “If you have a good story, write a tight script, and get the right people involved, you can make it.”

Although the movie’s story arc did deviate a bit from the book, the main theme of the piece — and Adams’ life — remains true. “Ultimately, this movie is about finding what it is you’re supposed to do with your life that you’re good at, that you enjoy, and that is honest,” he said.

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