Today, Board President Peter Currie ’74, P’03, and I wrote to the Andover community with an update regarding an independent investigation into matters of past sexual misconduct. As we’ve sought to understand and learn from these most troubling moments in our school’s history, we remain grateful to all who have shared information with us over the last several months. Each person who has come forward has shown tremendous courage. On behalf of the board, we extend our deepest apologies to these individuals and to all others who have been affected by any form of sexual misconduct at Andover. Our letter to the community includes a link to the full report from Sanghavi Law Office.
Source: Episode 06: Frank Stella ’54
Today, we know that many schools, including Andover, have not always lived up to our commitment to protect students in our care. Over the past year, independent investigators from Sanghavi Law Office have been carrying out a review of all reports of sexual misconduct at our school. We have repeatedly asked community members to share concerns or information they may have with these independent investigators. In August 2016, I sent a public letter to the Andover community about what we knew at that time. Since then, we have received further reports and have referred them all for review to the investigators. On campus, we remain focused on ensuring that we do right by the students we have the privilege to teach today.
Matters related to past teacher misconduct are currently appearing in the press. We take these matters extremely seriously. Our hearts go out to all those who were harmed at our school and at all schools in the past. At Andover, we are committed to learning as much as we can about our school’s past, offering support and acknowledgment for survivors of sexual misconduct, and ensuring the safety and security of all students on our campus today. The harms done to students in the past must never be repeated.
This weekend, we welcomed our trustees and many other alumni and parents to campus for meetings and also the 137th Andover-Exeter sporting contests. Over the course of the last several days, I have received a lot of feedback about the All School Meeting address that I gave on Wednesday morning after the presidential election. One reaction came from an Andover trustee, Stephen Sherrill, Class of 1971.
Steve raised some questions about my address and told me that he would have given a “different” address had he spoken to the students. In the spirit of open dialogue and with his permission, I am posting below his alternative All School Meeting address. I believe that now, more than ever, we need to talk constructively with one another when we disagree politically so that we can move forward our nation and our world. Even as Steve and I plainly disagree in various ways, I embrace his constructive criticism and look forward to more dialogue in future. Steve’s comments to me follow and appear in italics:
It was interesting to me that a need was felt to address the student body in reaction to an election result. I do not recall such a need being felt in the past. So, why this time? And, if I were called upon to speak, what would I say? Here goes:
We awoke this morning to an unpredicted election result. It has made many on this campus unhappy; it has made many elsewhere in America happy. That fact, above all, we must recognize. Neither side can ignore or discard the views and votes and sentiments, the needs and hopes and pains, no matter how expressed, of 50% of the American electorate. In a democracy all voices must be heard and all viewpoints considered. Whether we like it or not, the political arena is not one in which discourse is necessarily more sensitive and more thoughtful , less attention-seeking and less provocative, than the discourse prevalent in social and entertainment media and unfortunately in private spaces – in each of our “locker rooms”. And political actors on both sides of the aisle seize upon extremist and intemperate statements by the other to amplify rather than mute them.
In this election, the negative campaigning, the focus on personality, the apparent animosity between the candidates, the “attack” language, has been unprecedented and distasteful. The electorate has been uniquely unhappy with both candidates. Both have character flaws that one might view as disqualifying. Many felt both candidates were unsuited for the job. Of those, most voted for Donald Trump, despite the offensiveness of much of his rhetoric (if “tweets” might be given the once elevated title of rhetoric) and personal conduct, especially with respect to women. Obviously, many voters overcame this because of Hillary Clinton’s conduct relating to her maintenance of a personal server, her relationship to donors to the Clinton Foundation and a sense of dishonesty in addressing these issues. More importantly, many felt alienated from the political status quo. They felt their needs were not heard or addressed. Remember, Donald Trump was perhaps the last choice of the Republican establishment – many question whether he is in fact at heart a Republican. Just as Bernie Sanders, who has not in fact been a Democrat, received virtually the same amount of electoral support in the Democratic primaries as Hillary Clinton. Clearly, the fundamental truth of this electoral season has been dissatisfaction with the political status quo.
So what do we focus upon going forward? Clearly, continuing to be knowledgeable about political issues is important. In this respect, we should first challenge the views that we hold, whether they be liberal or conservative. The truth is that the state of affairs that is routinely characterized as “divisiveness” or “gridlock” consists in large part of a difference in strongly held views about what is best for America. Perhaps in better understanding the views of the other side, we will come upon some areas for greater agreement. Perhaps the best solution is not to blame somebody for “gridlock” when the truth is that there is a bona fide disagreement and, perhaps, no real effort has been made to compromise.
Take, for example, the contentious topic of immigration. At one end, as the caricature would hold, are the nativist bigots; at the other, are drug dealers and job-stealers. These are the caricatures that in this election have been used by both sides to attract voters and drive turnout. Of course, these caricatures are misguided. In a more thoughtful characterization, on the one side are Republicans who oppose “amnesty” as benefiting lawbreakers while law abiders wait in line; on the other side are Democrats who will accept no solution without citizenship (i.e., the right to vote). In the middle are the American workers who are dealing with unemployment and lacking income growth and the American economy which is employing immigrant labor. Is there a middle ground? One which legitimizes the presence of hard-working, tax payers without an easy road to citizenship? Perhaps, but only if politically driven messaging by each side can be overcome and the legitimate concerns of all addressed. And let us not ignore the difficulty of the immigration issue: few would deny that a country must have control over who comes to live in it; few would deny that immigrants (including illegal ones) have made valuable contributions to our workforce and culture. Both realities must be recognized for a solution to be realized that will be acceptable to all except those committed only to political gain.
Many voters for Hillary Clinton overcame doubts about her character to vote for the policies for which she stood. And it was probably even more difficult for many voters for Donald Trump (especially women and Hispanics) to overcome his offensive comments to vote for the policy direction which he articulated. (And, by the way, in some important respects, many Trump and Clinton policies seemed the same: infrastructure spending, trade, protection of Social Security.) Those votes do not represent tolerance of the candidate’s character and behavior. And we should recognize that.
We must not seize upon the mistakes and weaknesses of others who are our political antagonists to banish their voices. We must challenge ourselves to think, to be open to viewpoints of others and to focus upon the issues our country faces. We must not accept preconceptions and orthodox opinion. We must not take the easy route of denying the legitimacy of differing viewpoints because of the sometimes offensive manner in which they are expressed. Only listening and considering will we be able to bridge gaps and deal with the issues important to our future.
Good morning, Andover.
We gather here in All-School Meeting after a night that goes down in American history as one of the most unpredictable and anxiety-provoking any of us has ever witnessed. I am well aware that this morning there is a wide range of emotions in this Chapel: for some, despair, fear, anger, and similar emotions roll around in your gut and in your head; for others, there may be gladness at the outcome; for still others, a sense of steeliness and resolve; and so on. I am glad we have this place to come together. I am glad we have one another to be with, in the midst of a nation and a world that is so plainly divided.
I want to share some thoughts with you that are not directed at any one person or any one group, but at all of us – all of us – in this community. After that, we will have a short piece of reflective music from the chamber orchestra. Mrs. Elliott and Mrs. Griffith also have some words to share with you. And then, the Chapel will be open for us to remain and talk together until the next period begins.
This morning, I am focusing my own thoughts on why I came to Andover. I came here because I recognized and admired in this community the values that are most important to me. I know we talk about these values a lot in this Chapel, in All School Meeting, and I think it is more important than ever that we take the time this morning to reflect on them here together. I choose to spend these moments today thinking about what is in our control and what we can manage, right here and now, at Andover – to be part of the healing and part of the solution to a problem of divisiveness that is undeniable this morning in America.
We start with Non Sibi. We embrace together the idea that thinking and acting for others must guide our lives – not for self. Andover has stood for this value for 239 years and it will for ever more. I call on us today, and in the days to come, to can act with the empathy and kindness toward one another that is at the heart of the Non Sibi spirit. That is hard, I am certain, for those who feel attacked and abandoned this morning, and there are many who do. Non Sibi teaches us at Andover to be a community guided by love and tolerance. It is on all of us to ensure that everyone here feels that love and support.
Second: knowledge and goodness. We stand for the idea that it not enough just to be smart, just to have a head filled with the knowledge of books; we stand for the idea that character is as essential to education as our book-learning is. At the same time, our founding values emphasize that it is also not enough just to be good – that the knowledge that comes from hard work, the hard kind of work you know so well as Andover students, really matters. I take heart today in both aspects of this commitment: that we see it as our job to focus on both mind and morals as we go through this journey together, as students and teachers.
For some people, in your comments and your bearing this morning, I sense a certain despair – a sense of “why bother”? I hope and trust that, as we reflect on this election, that those who feel grief and despair today can turn those feelings over time into a commitment – a clear sense of exactly why to bother – why, exactly, we absolutely must bother with both knowledge and goodness, why all that hard work – on both your skills and your goodness – matters so very much.
Third: youth from every quarter. I want to be very clear that there is a place for everyone at Andover – no matter where you come from, who your parents are, how much money you have. I want to be clear that there is also a place at Andover for you no matter whether you are a conservative or a liberal. Our commitment to youth from every quarter is not partial; our commitment is absolute. This Academy shall be ever equally open to youth from every quarter. Those words are supposed to mean what they say – and we are all called upon, every one of us, to make them come true.
The thing that hurts the most about this election, for many people – and here, I speak for myself, too – is that too much of the rhetoric has been about exclusion, not inclusion; it has been about hate and not about love; it has been about putting some people above others. The conversation has not been about an America that I recognize – a land in which literally every person, by definition, came from another place or from the Native American nations that were on this very land before the European settlers arrived.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: there is absolutely no place for that kind of divisive and hateful rhetoric at Andover. We can disagree about laws and policies and politics – and, in fact, we must. But we cannot embrace the hateful aspects of the campaign we have just witnessed. Hate, in all its forms, is inconsistent with the values of this school, as they were written and as we now interpret them. We are a place where we invite people from all over the world, based solely on their abilities and their promise, to live, work, and play together. There is no student more valued than any other student; there is no adult more valued than any other adult. No election, nothing that could happen in politics can change that fact.
To every student at Andover: you have a place here that you have earned and which you earn every day through your good conduct and your hard work. You have adults here who have chosen to spend our professional lives with you because we believe in you, what you stand for, and what you will go on to do.
I do not want to hear about anyone acting with disrespect toward anyone else based on who they are, their race, where they came from, their faith, their beliefs, or any other reason of this sort. That is not what Andover is about. There is a better way and we must find it. And for those who disagree or act otherwise, we need to talk. You know where to find me in GW.
The very hardest problem at the heart of this election, for me, is the paradox of tolerance. Please forgive me this short foray into political philosophy, but I think you will get what I mean in a moment. At Andover, we teach tolerance. I doubt anyone here would disagree with that – I hope and trust that no one here would disagree with that. It is extremely easy to be a tolerant person when everyone around you is tolerant. It is easy to tolerate the tolerant, if you get what I mean. If we all commit to this principle, things go well. I hope at Andover we can indeed all commit to a deep, abiding sense of tolerance.
The problem with tolerance is when it comes to the intolerant. To the extent that some people in society are intolerant of other people – and we know that to be true – there becomes, all of a sudden, a problem with tolerance. The tolerant are called upon to tolerate the intolerant (who, in turn, are not asked to tolerate anyone). And to some degree, in a democracy, we must – that is part of the deal. We do not just give votes to the tolerant. And it is true that we grow and learn when we tolerate the views of others with whom we disagree.
What I believe is that there must be a point at which the tolerant are allowed to be intolerant of those who are intolerant. Our study of history points to many examples when it was a terrible mistake to tolerate intolerance for too long. This is the paradox of tolerance – and it is much on my mind today. Each one of us must find for ourselves that point. For me, that point is here, where I insist that we value all our students and their well-being equally.
As a school, I believe we must do everything we can to focus on building tolerance and love for one another so we do not find ourselves faced with this very paradox – a true paradox in the sense that it cannot be resolved when it gets to that point. As a leader of this community, I will give a very wide berth to the conversations we need to have about politics and difference. But intolerance of one another is something that we must resist.
Last concept, for now anyway: Finis Origine Pendet. The end depends upon the beginning. I love this concept because it emphasizes how much what happens here, matters to what happens out there, in the broader world. It matters because who you become when you leave Andover and what you do is grounded in who you are and what you do when you are here.
There is one idea that has been puzzling me since I got to Andover that I wanted to toss out to you this morning, on this topic of Finis Origine Pendet. One thing that adults often remark upon is the extent to which young people today are not interested in the political process – that you do not believe in the institutions of government and that you do not aspire to run for office or serve in the military or in the civil service.
I am quick to point out, by the way, what I know from research and from being with all of you: your civic activism is actually at a very high level historically, but you tend to prefer NGOs, social entrepreneurship, and approaches that are outside of the formal government processes.
One aspect of Andover’s history, as I trust you all know, is that we have produced in the past graduates who have gone on to be presidents, senators, representatives, judges, military leaders, and leaders of the civil service. In fact, last night, we all re-elected an Andover graduate, Seth Moulton, to represent this very district in the United States Congress.
I mention all this because I hope that this election, wherever you stood, will make you think about whether a life in politics – or at least active engagement in politics – is worth your time. I believe it is and I hope you will do. In fact, I think the health of our republic, and republics around the world, depends upon your doing so.
Our founding values at Andover are inextricably tied to the founding values of America. In both cases, the words are (mostly) very beautiful and inspiring. In both cases, we have lived up to them only in part. At Andover, I believe we can and will live up to ours, and in so doing, both support one another here, and support the healing of our world. Out of many, we must can and must be one – e Pluribus Unum.
This morning, as we wake up to a divided nation and a world of hurt and anger, I find I am devoted more than ever to the central cause that brought me to Andover: to help to make this residential school an example of a tolerant, loving, diverse, serious, hard-working, supportive, unbreakable community. Andover can be a symbol of unity and healing in a world that feels awfully divided and broken. No matter where we come from, we all have great good fortune in being here at this school, right now. In my view, we have no choice – no choice – but to roll up our sleeves even higher than we did yesterday to make this community, to make Andover, a beacon of hope – a beacon of hope for this country and for the world. Thank you.
Phillips Academy, Andover
June 5, 2016
Welcome, everyone – trustees, faculty, and staff; faculty Emeriti; alumni, families, friends, and – most of all – our beloved students. Thank you for your presence with us today.
I would like to start with a note of gratitude to the adults in the Andover community. Our community thrives as a direct result of individual and collective diligence, support, and love. To all the adults who care for our students, who select our students in the admissions process, and who teach them all the way along: let us all express our thanks to these wonderful people this morning. Please join me in a great big round of applause for the faculty, staff, and faculty Emeriti of Phillips Academy.
To the parents and grandparents, guardians and friends: thank you, too. Thank you for the gift of time with the students you have sent to us. I know, for many of you, that it felt like a great sacrifice to part with your children so early, for so many days out of the year – whether as boarding or day students. For this gift of time, you have our enduring thanks. The students you have shared with us have done you very proud.
And to the great Class of 2016: Theo Perez and Annette Bell, thank you for your inspiring words this morning. Thank you for your exceptional leadership this year and all the years you have been with us.
To every member of the Class of 2016: thank you and congratulations. You are a spirited group – a brilliant group – worthy of the honor we pay you today as we pronounce you graduates of Andover. Your talent have been well on display these past few days, in our ceremonies and concerts.
I will always remember you. You and I arrived at Andover together, four years ago. You are the first class that I, as head of school, have been with all the way through. It has been a delight to watch you grow and thrive here. I remember you as you were when you arrived at Andover, whether that was four years ago – which seems quite a long time now – or this past Fall. It is safe to say that every one of you has changed as a result of being at Andover – as a result of being with one another, in this very special place.
As we celebrate the great diversity in our community, I am struck by a wonderful combination in the Class of 2016. Many of you are the first in your family to attend boarding school. Though perhaps what is more noteworthy is that a significant number of you will be the first in your family to attend college. We also have graduates whose families have been connected to Andover for literally hundreds of years – including one family with a graduate from the class of 1816, exactly 200 years ago, and a graduate today, in the class of 2016.
Whether your family is here at Andover for the first time, the second time, or the umpteenth time, you have brought much to this community. You have done well at Andover; you have done Andover well; and we all have high hopes for what you will do with the goodness and knowledge that you have gained while you have been with us. We are delighted to be connected with you from here on out.
My topic this morning has to do with the world beyond Andover, the world in which you enter, for good, this afternoon. I hope that today, this Commencement – meaning, of course, a new beginning – is a chance for you to reflect upon where you have been over the past few years as well as how you might act, in the future, to make the world a better place. How, in short, will you apply the knowledge and goodness that you have learned here when you get out there?
You leave us at a time of enormous transition in society. The one thing I suspect we could all agree on – regardless of political persuasion – is that the rate of change is unprecedented in human history. The problems that humanity will need to address together – and which will affect your generation for even longer than my own – make for a very long list. We face these problems when some of our key political institutions are not in the best of shape. The American political system, for one, is fractured – the United States Congress has a hard time reaching decisions on just about anything, candidates seem to be rewarded for making the most outrageous statements they can, and the common ground between American political parties appears to be microscopically small.
During your time at Andover, some of you have already focused on addressing the big social issues of our time. Perhaps you agree with the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who wrote:
“[a]chieving sustainable development on our crowded, unequal, and degraded planet is the most important challenge facing our generation,”
and you were among those engaged with EcoAction in its work on climate change. Perhaps your concern is global poverty and hunger, and you worked on a Real World Design Challenge to help feed the billions who are hungry. Perhaps you traveled with a Learning in the World group to help bridge cultural gaps across nations and peoples. Perhaps you led a Technovation challenge to imagine and start building the next big start-up to create jobs and solve social problems at the same time.
Today, I want to focus your mind on a particular challenge and opportunity that lies before you. As we rush to solve these huge problems, we often reach to technology to help us do that. As you know, I am, myself, very excited about what our use of technology can bring. On this campus, we have used technology in new and exciting ways in our classrooms; and we have been finding ways to use technology to share what we have at Andover with others far from here.
At the same time, I fear that the unfettered use of technology will bring with it bigger problems than it solves.
Your time at Andover has been marked by the rise of many different technologies. Consider the sharp rise in the use of drones over the past four years. That Real World Design Challenge team from Andover that won the Massachusetts challenge? This team proposed the use of a drone to aid farmers in their efforts to grow crops more efficiently and healthfully. The United States relies increasingly on drones for important combat and intelligence missions. Less profound, but more likely to affect you directly: Amazon.com announced earlier this year that it is testing the use of drones to deliver your packages – perhaps those who follow you at Andover will get their packages directly at their dorms, instead of at Central Services in GW. These drones can save lives, improve the economy, and help feed the hungry.
The same goes for self-driving cars. If Andover were in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, we’d already see Google’s self-driving cars making their way around town. These autonomous cars are well on track to come into mainstream use before long, with the promise of reducing traffic fatalities, saving tens of thousands of lives in the United States alone each year.
The list of things that are in the process of being transformed is growing with enormous speed. Artificial intelligence – derived, as you probably know, from the work of Marvin Minsky, Phillips Academy Class of 1945, who visited us this past year and who passed away recently – is behind these many changes. These changes are coming to our kitchens – through the Internet of Things – and into every workplace. These innovations are automating language translation, transforming industrial production, and altering our economy in radical ways.
What do these profound changes mean for you, soon-to-be graduates?
One might draw the conclusion that the important thing is for graduates to know how to master this array of automated systems. To some extent, that is surely true. There are jobs to be had in programming, security, and marketing of new technologies. The government, of any nation you come from, needs you to help secure systems and borders – in cyberspace. The private sector needs you, to grow and to expand our economy, in the United States and around the globe. That is all true – and I do hope some of you pursue these kinds of occupations. I know you will be quite successful in these pursuits if so.
The bigger conclusion that I draw, though, is that we also need the humanists. I hope that all of you, with your newly-minted Andover diplomas, will take full advantage of the liberal arts experience you have had here.
To solve the problems that come along with advanced technology, society will need people with expertise that is deeper than the technical. Increasingly, companies and governments are finding that the people needed to tackle computing problems have not just technical expertise, but the kind of imagination that comes from a liberal arts background.
Think ahead, beyond the immediate. Imagine the kinds of thorny issues that we can expect from a world that is more automated than it is today. With more computers making more decisions, including life-and-death decisions on the roads and in the air, in our waterways and in all imaginable form of transit, we need ethicists who will set sensible rules ahead of time.
Two self-driving cars, for instance, find themselves on a collision course. What answer? Perhaps imagine a drone in the mix. Though tricky, this problem turns out not to be a new one.
There is a long philosophical tradition of the Trolleyologists, who have considered such problems for roughly half a century. The Trolleyologists were a group of moral philosophers who took up a series of questions that may sound quaint today. While there are variants on the problem, the classic version goes something like this:
A trolley – in our parlance, a train – goes out of control. It is speeding toward a crowd of people. The people in the crowd face certain death if the train hits them. You are standing nearby. You realize that you could save them: by flipping a switch, you could send the train in another direction, onto a spur. In doing so, you would divert the train and surely save their lives. Here’s the rub: a man is chained to the tracks on the spur. That man would be surely killed if you divert the trolley away from the other group.
The Trolleyologists spent their time wondering: should you flick the switch to save the group of lives and kill the one man? Though the language sounds old-fashioned, the topics that the Trolleyologists took up long ago are about to explode with frequency and importance.
It turns out, you have huge advantages when it comes to tackling hard problems like this one, and the others you will face – problems that have eluded those of us who are a bit older than you are. At Andover, you have learned much along these lines. You have devoted yourself to the study of a broad and deep set of materials and topics. You have all engaged in the arts, in the sciences, in the study of languages, in English, in history, and in philosophy and religious studies.
You have learned, in a long and grand tradition, how to make good decisions. Sound human judgment is an essential element of a strong society. Especially as we head into a more and more automated world, the decisions that humans make – often up front, or “ex ante,” before the problems occur – will only take on a greater importance.
This liberal arts tradition is not new; nor is it by chance that you are well-prepared for these hard issues. In his inaugural address as headmaster of Andover, John Mason Kemper took up a similar theme:
“There must be faith that in every human being there is a generosity of spirit which will respond to decent treatment and the stimulus of selfless leadership. Tolerance, sympathy, respect must inevitably result in team work. Team work, in turn, can solve many community problems far beyond the capacity of any individual to solve.”
Kemper also said, that day, that:
“[…] knowledge of many fields, a wide range of interests, will enhance the understanding of the interrelation of events and activities.”
The Andover of today – your Andover – is not far different from the Andover of 1948 in these essential respects – no matter how many drones may swirl overhead.
You have a second essential advantage. You are bridge-builders. We have asked you, in many ways and in many contexts, to spend time with other youth from every quarter.
You will bring to these essential, emerging problems your ability to get along with one another and to listen to one another. I know that we have not been perfect at that these past four years. (We have not been perfect at that these past four weeks, for that matter.) But I put great stock in the fact that you’ve had a lot of practice. You have lived, worked, argued, and played alongside an extraordinarily diverse group of peers and faculty. You have disagreed with one another, quite vociferously at times. You have hurt one another’s feelings and you have struggled through hard days and long nights. But here you all are. You come together today as a class, the Class of 2016, graduating together.
I can’t possibly say what the biggest problems of tomorrow will be, exactly. But to solve the problems that face society today and will face society going forward, I am certain that we will need people who can listen to one another; people who can appreciate other points of view; people who cherish diversity in all its forms; and people who can work across difference, turning the other cheek, setting aside hate and anger – choosing, instead, empathy and love.
The founders of Phillips Academy and Abbot Academy were devout Christians. Though today we do not invoke religion as often as 238 years ago, I am reminded of a passage from Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
Those who have gone before us have also urged us to do so in the spirit of making a difference. In the words of former Abbot Academy principal Phebe McKeen:
“Girls are urged to consider their education incomplete till they have learned to do some one thing that the world will count it worth paying for.”
We seek, at Andover, for our work to be connected to the world at large – just as the Abbot women of the past urged their graduates. We talk of an Andover Bubble, but we aspire to be more than a place of isolation. Through our work on campus and in off-campus community engagement, we aspire to make a difference in the world. Mostly, thought, we aspire to do that through you – our graduates. What you go on to do is the source of our greatest hope and our greatest pride.
You may have thought your work at Andover has just concluded; I am here today to tell you that your work at Andover is just about to begin. That work is not about exams or races or concerts or plays or art installations on campus – it’s about how you will act in a world that needs your care, your support, your leadership, and your good human judgment. As we bid you adieu, we have enormous faith in what you, the class of 2016, will do – in all your humanity, with all your grace. Congratulations, and Godspeed. Thank you.
All School Meeting Address (Excerpt)
May 4, 2016
John Palfrey, Phillips Academy
I was in North Carolina recently, at Duke, and I talked with a recent graduate from the class of 2014. He just loved Andover and told me how much he missed it. I asked him what he missed the most about it. He told me he really missed ASM – he missed coming into Cochran Chapel and having time, with all of his classmates, to reflect. I hope this ASM might have that effect, too, for all of you […].
The message I had in mind today was to celebrate two things at once: diversity, on the one hand, and free expression, on the other. These are both values that we hold dear at Andover and that we hold dear in America, and in many other countries around the world. They are not all that easy to hold at once, sometimes, but it is very important that we try.
When I was in law school, I had two groups of friends. It just worked out this way, but one group of friends was very liberal and the other group of friends was very conservative. One thing I really admired about my law school was that there was a broad range of opinion, both on the faculty and among the student body.
But it was a funny experience. I would have lunch, most days, with my liberal friend group, after, say, Property class. We’d inevitably talk about the cases we were reading – it’s sort of a first-year law student disease, which is that you can’t stop talking about the cases – and at some point, someone would say something like, “I can’t believe what that conservative kid said about the judge’s opinion.” And another person would say, “Yeah, I can’t believe how conservative this place is.” Almost on a daily basis, the lament would be about how conservative the law school was.
Then, in the evening, I’d be hanging out with my study group. This group of students was by and large conservative. The kids were equally smart and equally hard working – they just saw things from a very different angle, through a very different lens. I found studying with them to be electrifying, actually, and a real challenge – in a great, intellectual way. At some point during the study group session, usually in a tiny windowless room in the library, one person would say, “I can’t believe what that liberal kid said about the judge’s opinion.” And another person would say, “Yeah, I can’t believe how liberal this place is.” Almost on a daily basis, the lament would be about how liberal the law school was.
When I first noticed this funny pattern, I thought to myself, “how sad!” Both groups felt somehow not supported in their political views, alienated by an orthodoxy that they perceived within the institution – that it was “not easy” to be liberal, or “not easy” to be conservative.
I don’t know for a fact, because I haven’t asked all 1100 of you, but I would guess that a roughly similar dynamic exists at Andover. I do know that some of you have told me that it is hard to be at Andover if you come from a family that has not gone to boarding school in the past, or from a family that pays a smaller portion of the tuition than another family does. I have heard from some of you that you find it hard to be at Andover and to express the challenges of coming from a particular culture or race or heritage or place on the gender spectrum or sexual orientation, and especially so if your particular background has been marginalized or has historically had less power in American society. I have heard from others of you that it is hard to be a person of faith at Andover, that your fellow students – and even sometimes your teachers – don’t act with respect when you talk about your beliefs. I have heard from some of you that this culture is not supportive of athletes, especially those who are white and male. Others of you have said that if you are a legacy at Andover, people wonder if that’s how you got in – and that you are made to feel less worthy.
I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while, and I’ve come to see this pattern in a different way. Instead of seeing a problem – this place is too conservative or too liberal, too supportive of legacies or too supportive of those who have come to boarding schools more recently, too supportive of athletes or too supportive of artists – I see it as an opportunity. I choose to see it as the glorious promise of diversity and of learning in a liberal arts environment.
This morning, what I’d like to tell you all is that I credit that you are feeling these things. I want to say, for the record, that the entire game-plan for Andover is to have you here together. I want also to say how much I appreciate you in all your diversity, and as individuals. And I want you to be able to share your views in serious, respectful ways that make our community smarter and stronger. I want you to lean in to our diversity and to make it a strength.
I suppose there might be those who look at me on this stage and dismiss what I am saying. Easy, you might think, for you to say. It is easy to have a lot of power and privilege. And it is easy to spout high-minded ideals when it is your people who have, for the entire history of this school and this country, written the rules.
And to a degree, you would have a point. I stand before you clear in the knowledge that I come from a place of privilege: I have ancestors who came on the Mayflower and on the Abigail to America. I have ancestors who were slaveholders and ancestors who were abolitionists. Members of my family have gone to boarding schools for the entire time that there have been boarding schools in America. When I was in high school and in college, I committed myself to competing at athletics at a high level. There’s absolutely nothing I loved doing more at your age than competing with my teammates for my school – I am proud to be an athlete. As your head of school, I have the microphone, today quite literally, the ability to shape the dialogue and to set the agenda at this school. So yes, it is quite true: I stand before you with the deck stacked in my favor. Put another way: I’m aware that I was born on third base and that I didn’t hit a triple to get there.
But that, I hope and trust, is not the sum total of what you see when you look at me, or at your neighbor beside you in the pews of this chapel. More important, I hope that you see a human being – someone with hopes, fears, dreams, and daily struggles. I hope that you see someone who cares, loves, and respects other people.
And that, Andover, is really what I want to say this morning. I appreciate each one of you. I’m grateful to each one of you for who you are and what you bring to Andover.
I appreciate the activists. There are those who have taken up causes from the right and from the left. There are those who have gotten engaged in this year’s presidential campaign and those who have been inspired by Jane Goodall and Ai-jen Poo. There are those who have sought racial justice and sexual justice and social justice of myriad stripes. Sometimes your activism takes me or the school’s administration as your target. I love that all these things exist on our campus, and I extend my respect to all of you, regardless of your political commitments and beliefs. So long as you are serious and respectful in what you do and how you do it, I celebrate your activism in all its forms.
I appreciate the artists. I appreciate the visual artists and the performing artists. I appreciate those with enormous skill and those who merely apply what little skill they can muster – and, when it comes to the arts, I’m very much in that latter camp, myself. I am inspired by your play with instruments and voice; I am inspired by your acting and dancing, your stage-production and lighting. Our community is vastly richer for your talents and your efforts.
I appreciate the athletes in the room, and that means essentially all of you. One of the great things about Andover is that there are students who undertake athletics for the purpose of staying fit and well. And there are those who are athletes with the goal of winning championships and playing in college and beyond. I am psyched for you when you hit walk-off doubles to win a game in the fizzling rain – whether on the softball field or the baseball field — and I am proud of you when you pull hard but come up short. I love your sportsmanship, your teamwork, and your enthusiasm. Go Big Blue!
I appreciate everyone in this room for your academic strengths – and by that I do mean everyone.
I appreciate all those who commit themselves to a life of non sibi through community engagement – and I hope that will mean everyone, for the rest of your years. Finis origine pendet.
I appreciate those of faith, and those who choose not to express their faith.
I appreciate those who are all of those things, or any number of them.
It doesn’t matter to me whether your family has just come to the United States, or if your forebears came to this country, or if no one in your family is from the USA. It doesn’t matter to me if you hold one passport or two, and whether neither one says “USA” on the front.
My call to you is to appreciate one another. This is diversity. We have it here, in all its many forms. That means acting with tolerance and respect. It means avoiding saying the hurtful things about the backgrounds of other people – and if you do say something hurtful, it means saying you are sorry. While it may be legal to say hurtful things to other people, it is inconsistent with our community values. We can do better than to belittle one another – in any way. That’s what I got from listening to Ai-jen Poo and to Jane Goodall this past month in this chapel – what’s the point of acting other than with love and forgiveness and kindness toward one another?
My call to you is to speak and act with respect to one another, and also to tolerate views that may seem deeply wrong to you. Actually, I’d go one further. I’d urge you to seek out those with views distant from your own and see what you can glean from hearing about them. Sure, you may simply come away convinced that you were right all along.
Nothing good, in human history, has come of societies retreating to homogeneity or to demagoguery. It can be tempting, for all sorts of reasons. But it’s not a good idea. And we, here in this intentional community – we can do better.
I hope that we might agree that we want Andover to be a place where everyone on this campus can strive to achieve their dreams. I want Andover to be a place where everyone can strive to be their best selves. I want Andover to be a place where we support one another as we all pursue our dreams – where we don’t cut one another down, but rather support one another, in our words and in our actions. This is a choice, Andover, and it is a choice that I know you can make.
I want to bring you to your feet, Andover – to encourage you to Rise Up, as Andra Day says in her song – to rise up to achieve your own dreams, like Serena Williams and like the Relay for Life team here on campus a few weeks ago, and to commit to support one another as we all pursue our dreams here at this school.