Students at Girard College gave His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the third son of the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth, a warm welcome Thursday during a visit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
“He really was a jokester,” said Kira Cossa, a senior at Girard College and participant in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Philadelphia program. “I was a little nervous, but he was really nice.”
The prince, who is chairman of the board of the International Council of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association and seventh in line for the British crown, met with about 20 local participants of the award program from Girard College, Science Leadership Academy and Valley Forge Military Academy. He also planted a Magnolia Elizabeth tree — named after his mother — at the northeast corner of the administration building. The planting, to honor the Queen’s 60 years on the throne, mirrored a similar gesture made in 1860 by Prince Edward’s great-great-grandfather King George VII, when he was Prince of Wales.
That visit was the first by a member of the royal family to the United States.
Prince Edward said he didn’t think the city would have to wait that long for another visit.
“You’ve made me feel very welcome here this afternoon,” he told a group of about 200 students gathered on the lawn for the tree planting. “I hope that some other member of the family may get here before 2162. That seems rather a long time to wait for something else to turn up here.”
Noting that the tree planted in 1860 was still flourishing, he told students that he was looking for someone to take care of his magnolia tree.
“If it doesn’t last quite so long, I know who to come complain to,” he joked.
As if to remind him that he was in North Philadelphia, an passing SUV blaring hip-hop music briefly blared over Prince Edward’s speech.
Despite the royal’s string of titles that includes Earl of Wessex, he impressed students at the Girard with his good manners and easy sense of humor.
“He was so much nicer than I thought,” reiterated Cossa.
“I said ‘nice to meet you your Royal Highness,’” said Gregory Wright, another senior who met the Prince. “He said, ‘I’m pleased to meet you.’ I was surprised.”
Students practiced for several days for their audience with the Prince.
The event was attended by the school’s president, Autumn Adkins Graves and Mayor Michael Nutter as well as Bernard Smalley, president of the board of trustees and Oliver St. C. Franklin, OBE, Honorary British Consul in Philadelphia.
“This is an historic occasion and a treat for our students,” Nutter said. “On behalf of a million and half people and growing, we welcome you.”
The mayor also singled out one member of his staff who is British: Luke Butler, the mayor’s special assistant.
“The British influence is throughout city government,” he quipped.
Nutter presented the prince with a small replica of the Liberty Bell and Graves gave him a print of the Girard College campus as it appeared in 1860. The Prince of Wales visited the college then because it was the highest point in the city and visitors often climbed to the roofs of campus buildings to get a bird’s eye view.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – named after the Prince’s father, the Queen’s consort – mentors students between the ages of 14 and 25 in 132 countries. Participants take part in a series of community services projects that highlight service, physical recreation, skill development and an adventurous journey, at three different skill levels. The program was established in 1956 and came to Philadelphia in 2009. There are 75 participants living in Philadelphia: 30 bronze medalists and 15 silver medalists. The first gold level awards are expected to be awarded in the fall.