Celebration of AfLatAm@50 at Phillips Academy

John Palfrey

Opening Remarks – Celebration of AfLatAm@50

April, 2018

Good evening.  Let me please begin by thanking Emily Ndiokho, Class of 2018, for her leadership tonight in MC-ing this event and also for her leadership throughout her time at Andover.  As president of AfLatAm this year — in fact, the 50th president of AfLatAm — as a CAMD scholar, and all-around wonderful leader on campus, Emily deserves all of our thanks and praise.  Let’s please have a round of applause for Emily.

I am delighted to welcome all of you — Andover students, alumni, current and former faculty and staff, and honored guests — as we launch the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the AfLatAm program. More than 300 alumni have traveled to campus to celebrate this milestone and—as importantly—to engage in discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at our school and in our society at large.  I am particularly excited to hear tonight’s keynote address by Hafsat Abiola, class of 1992 and one of the very best speakers I’ve ever heard.  We are all in for a treat tonight!

I’d like also to take a brief moment to thank our colleagues who have worked so hard on this event.  There are too many to name everyone, but in particular I’d like to acknowledge LaShawn Springer, CAMD dean; Linda Carter Griffith, Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness; and Jenny Savino from the Office of Alumni Engagement.  Their teams and colleagues have worked so hard to put this event together.  I’d like to acknowledge also the support of our current and former Trustees, who stand behind and make possible all we do here at Andover, five of whom are here tonight: Gary Lee, class of 1974 and Allison Picoctt, class of 1988, who are current board members, and three former board members: Chris Auguste, class of ’76; George Smith, class of ’83, and Rejji Hayes ’93.  Thanks to each of these trustees here tonight.

In its 240th year, Andover is animated by many of the same ideals that were set forth by the Phillips family in the 18th century.  Among those ideals, we take very seriously the charge that the school would be “ever equally open to Youth (of requisite qualifications) from Every Quarter.”

Of course, when our founders codified these words in the Constitution of Phillips Academy in 1778, the ideal was far from our aspiration for today’s modern school.  We don’t know exactly how Samuel Phillips and his co-founders truly defined “every quarter,” but they almost certainly meant white boys from local families.  What we do know is that they likely envisioned a school that would admit sons of the working classes, not just the wealthy – they described it as a “public free school” and the very first class of students included a boy who traveled from Jamaica.

Though our founders’ vision of the quarters from which youth might come to Andover would fall far short of what we embrace today, I believe that the real genius of those few words written down hundreds of years ago is their inherent challenge: that we should be “ever equally open.” This requires each new generation to strive to find students from every conceivable background as we seek to educate the future leaders who will change our world for good.

Andover is a place—a vibrant, living community. But it is also an idea. And in both spheres—that of the real and that of the ideal—it is imperfect, always changing, always seeking truth.

Fifty years ago, steeped in social movements that had impacted our country and our campus for decades, the Af-Lat-Am program emerged as both a marker of change and a beacon of hope to lead us further toward a greater inclusiveness. Those student and faculty pioneers strove for a greater understanding of the experience of African Americans and LatinX students, and a greater appreciation of how much more complete Andover could be when we continually strive to be “ever EQUALLY open to Youth from EVERY Quarter.”

Andover’s Need Blind Admission Policy, now in its 11th year, is one cornerstone of this commitment. Need-blind admission stands out as Andover’s single most important financial priority. Currently,

  • Nearly half of our students today receive financial aid.
  • Andover has awarded $22 million in scholarships in this year

We are extremely proud to be the only school of our kind that is need blind.  No other school can claim a financial aid program as comprehensive as ours. And it is the modern path by which we ensure access for all. These are important steps and we should be proud and grateful for the many people who have generously made it possible.

Yet access alone is not enough. Diversity alone is not enough.  These commitments are necessary, but they are not sufficient.

A few years ago, we embraced at Andover a strategic plan that called for a renewed focus not just on diversity but on equity and inclusion.

To lead our work in this area, Linda Carter Griffith – LCG to our students and families – began a new leadership role—the first position of its kind for independent schools—as Assistant Head of School for Equity and Inclusion (her title has since expanded to incorporate wellness).  Linda’s work focuses on supporting all members of the Andover community so they can achieve their full potential.  She brings the experience of a devoted teacher and seasoned administrator to this senior position at our school.

Why is LCG’s role and work so crucial?

From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Staten Island to Charlottesville, our country continues to struggle to come to grips with the enduring presence and legacy of white supremacy.  From every vantage point, we must all look anew at the history and structures of our institutions and the degree to which we have an extraordinary amount of work to do.  That includes at Andover.

Each year, Andover welcomes more than 1,100 students to campus with as many distinct experiences and points of view.  Emily and her fellow students come from nearly every state and 45 countries.

In a world marked by global unrest and political discord, we rely on the principles of equity and inclusion to guide our thinking and actions. Linda’s leadership has been incredibly important to our community.  Through partnership with the Community and Multicultural Development Office, student groups, and other faculty across campus, we’ve devoted ourselves as a community to probing matters of ideology, gender, identity, citizenship, and race.  Guest speakers have challenged us on politics and policy; students have joined the #NeverAgain movement advocating for tighter gun control, #MeToo to advocate for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence, and a host of social justice activities.

We can’t and we don’t shy away from those issues that challenge us to hear—and better understand—one another.  I truly believe that this is how we will grow and learn as a community.

Our commitment to equity and inclusion is fundamentally about keeping our promise to every student who comes here. It is our goal to ensure that everyone is valued equally and has an equal chance to thrive at Phillips Academy and beyond. I couldn’t be more excited about the young people at Andover today, nor more pleased with the strength of our faculty. Even as we remain deeply grounded in our founding values of 1778, in 2018 we are learning and growing as an institution in ways that directly benefit every student.

Where does this lead us? Guided by our core values, Andover will continue to thrive and struggle and lean into tough issues — issues on which members of our community are bound to disagree. And I hope that each of you will play a pivotal role in this.

This reunion, AFLATAM@50, is very much a celebration of our past—of student leaders who pressed us forward, of faculty and staff who worked tirelessly to address inequity—but it also is a commitment to the future and to the necessary, difficult, and extraordinarily important work that must still be done.  I look forward to continuing on this important journey with all of you, with our faculty and our staff and our students.  Thank you.

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