“Knowledge and Goodness: The Andover Campaign” launch speech

PA Knowledge Goodness Sun Wordmark RGB

John Palfrey

Remarks at Capital Campaign Launch

Andover, MA

September 2017

Thank you, Dana Delany, for your kind introduction and for everything you’ve done for Andover over the years.

I also want to thank Peter Currie and the board of trustees for their leadership.

Most of all, I am grateful to all of you.  Thank you for joining us as we launch this ambitious campaign to secure Andover’s future.  With your help, we will make sure that Phillips Academy remains a vital source of both knowledge and goodness.

We all have our own reasons for loving Andover.  Maybe you had a teacher who unlocked your passion for science or poetry. Maybe you discovered an instrument or a sport that gave you a new sense of pride and confidence.  Maybe you fell in love for the first time. Maybe, like Catherine and me, you placed your trust in Andover, to educate and care for your child.

Whatever your story, you’re here because Andover changed your life or your child’s life.  That’s what we do.  It’s what makes this school so special.  It’s something I’ve heard our Dean of Admission Jim Ventre say a million times.  Imagine Team Shuman – Jim and his colleagues from the Admissions Office – in the parking lot outside a school or community building.  As they are getting ready to recruit our next fabulous group of students, Jim says:

“Let’s go change some lives.”

Each one of you here is proof of the results.  So is Hafsat.  Wasn’t she amazing?  And in a few minutes you’ll hear from the incredible Kevin Olusola, whose musical and vocal talents found new creative pathways at Andover.  There are thousands more stories like theirs—stories of lives changed by Andover, stories centered around knowledge and goodness.

I think about the students the admission team assisted after Hurricane Katrina when they set up a makeshift office in a Houston hotel and conducted interviews by cell phone.  One day these students are stranded, the next they’re headed to a promising new future. Alan Wesson was one of those 19 students who blew in on Katrina’s winds. He went from Andover to Yale and is now serving as director of public programs for a west coast high school’s Center for Civic Engagement.

I think about Dario Collado, of the class of 1998, who spoke at All-School Meeting this spring.  Dario grew up in a housing project in a working-class Dominican community in Lawrence.  In an All-School Meeting last year, Dario gave one of those addresses where I could tell he had gripped every pair of eyes and ears in the audience.  Dario told our students about how a teacher at the public high school saw his potential, encouraged him to apply to Andover, drove him to the interview, and even paid his application fee.  I loved watching the faces of our students as they listened to Dario tell the story of how he found self-confidence and determination at Andover, how he became the first member of his family to go to college, and how he went on to a life of service nurturing the next generation of LatinX leaders.  Dario’s story embodies our ethic of non sibi and youth from every quarter—and it’s a testament to the transformative power of the Andover experience for students from every quarter, from every socio-economic background, from all around the world.

I think also of Caroline Lind, who came here as a promising student and devoted softball player from Greensboro, NC.  When she broke her nose one season, she worked out on the erg to stay in shape.  After hitting a record time on the machine, she changed sports and joined crew.  We all know how this story turned out. Caroline went onto Princeton, starred in crew there, and has since won 2 Olympic gold medals.  Circumstances, great coaching, faculty encouragement and personal “grit” enabled her to find a career and a passion.

Your support has helped make all this possible.  I’ve seen it first-hand over the past six years.

You’ve allowed us to continue the need-blind admission policy so no student is ever turned away for financial reasons.  No other secondary school has a financial aid program as comprehensive as ours.

You’ve supported a legacy of excellence that shines most brightly in our faculty and academic program.  It’s paying off:  Last year, a record 86 percent of admitted students chose to enroll, joining us on campus just weeks ago.

You’ve also supported our efforts to provide the healthy, balanced campus life our students need and deserve. I’m enormously proud of our state-of-the-art Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center and the programming and care to which it is home.

You’ve helped us achieve so much.  But we can’t rest on yesterday’s success. There are many more lives to change. Knowledge and Goodness, The Andover Campaign is our catalyst.

Under the leadership of Peter and the trustees, and guided by the Academy’s strategic plan, we’ve set big goals – from ensuring that Andover remains need- blind, to building a dynamic campus that can support the needs of leading-edge 21st-century education.

Our work is more important than ever.  Andover’s mission—the charge laid down by our founders to instill both knowledge and goodness—is fiercely urgent and absolutely necessary.

We are living in a time of great change… in education for sure, but also in our society at large…  how we live, work, reason, and grow together… all of it is in flux.  It can be disorienting… for students, for parents, for all of us.

As someone whose research is focused on technological change, I see these effects on education every day on campus.  I also see the impact of our increasingly polarized politics and how hard our students are working to keep open minds and open hearts.

(Pause)

Here’s the good news: Andover is well positioned to thrive in this changing world—if we make the right choices and investments.

In 1959, at the start of another fundraising campaign, Headmaster John Mason Kemper said that schools like Andover needed to meet the great changes of that era “with new ideas, new attitudes, and new techniques and tools, while holding fast to the enduring values of our past.”

That’s even more true today.

Andover’s strength has always come from a special balance of continuity and change.  Our traditions have defined us.  Finis origine pendet is right there on our seal.  But our spirit of innovation is what’s made us excel.  Think of Thomas Cochran leading the way to build our modern campus in the 1920s, with our museums, library, and Chapel.  Ted Sizer bringing coeducation to Andover in the 1970s.  And Barbara Chase and Oscar Tang recommitting Andover to need blind 10 years ago, so that the Academy could live up to its promise of educating youth from every quarter.  In each case, visionary leadership and courageous thinking helped Andover set the platinum standard for secondary schools everywhere.

With Knowledge and Goodness, we’ll double down on Andover’s core values, which provide a foundation in a changing time—an enduring commitment to excellence and inclusion, an ethic of service and citizenship, and a laser-like focus on the minds and morals of our students.

At the same time, we’ll keep innovating. The Tang Institute is an incubator for emerging ideas in education. Our faculty are already adding to their teaching techniques and changing the way students learn.

Our Learning in the World program offers every student the opportunity to study off campus and experience a culture unlike their own. We are preparing global citizens like never before. I can’t think of anything more valuable in our present climate.

And with your help, our need-blind admission policy will continue allowing us to recruit the most talented, creative and diverse student body in the country.

This is what Knowledge and Goodness, The Andover Campaign is all about.  It’s how we’ll make sure Andover continues to change lives for years to come.

We like to say that the end depends upon the beginning.  Well, this is another beginning for Andover.  Right here, with all of you, tonight.  Thank you for your support of our school, our students and faculty and staff, and the values we share.  Thank you for all of it.

Now let’s go change some lives!

# # #

 

Opening All School Meeting, Phillips Academy, 2017-2018

All-School Meeting

John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy

September 13, 2017

Good morning, Andover!  I am psyched to see you all here.

The main point of this All School Meeting is simply for us to gather, in one space, to celebrate the start of the year.  It’s a great chance to acknowledge the special role that the faculty and staff play in our lives here.  And it’s a moment to celebrate the start to the senior year of the great Andover Class of 2018.

Phillips Academy is not a great place because it’s old.  It’s a great place because generation after generation of faculty and students, staff and alumni, have refused to rest on the laurels of past greatness.  Phillips Academy has always been a place where tradition and values matter a great deal – and you’ll hear much about non sibi, knowledge with goodness, and youth from every quarter during your time here – but also a place where innovation happens, where reform has happened in ways that are consistent with the school’s founding principles.

At this time of year, I always think of footsteps – those left by those who came before us and those that we will leave during OUR time at Andover.

First, let’s think about the effect of our footsteps on our natural environment.  I hope and trust that we are entering a new era of stewardship, in which we are all thinking carefully about how might protect the environment around us and do our part to combat the dangers of climate change.

My thoughts about footsteps this morning relate to treading lightly and carefully during our time here.  Those who are returning students to Andover know the rules when it comes to walking around campus.  One big one is to be sure to press the button before you cross the street, whether the sun is shining or not.  Take out your earbuds.  Look out for cars, make eye contact with drivers, and smile and wave if you are crossing in front of a car.  Please do this 100% of the time.

When it comes to walking on the grass, the rule goes something like this: one may walk on the grass if one is going to a spot on the grass, say, to have a picnic; but one should use the path, if one is merely walking from point to point on campus, across the grass.

And if you must cross the grass to get from point A to point B, returning students, what do you need to do?  Yes, zig-zag.

This rule seems quite sensible; I like it.  Please do play Frisbee and soccer and have picnics on the lawns at Andover.  Shame on us if we don’t take the time to enjoy the natural beauty of this campus, to enjoy the hard work of our friends in OPP, to share the gifts of the landscape architecture of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Platt, and others.  This rule means that we are both enjoying and respecting the land we have been given, as stewards for the future.

I am reminded, too, of my own first all-school meeting, when I was a student.  It turns out my school called it “assembly.”  And it turns out, in case you haven’t heard, that I was at Exeter at the time.  The only thing I remember about that first assembly, other than the sense of excitement and electricity in the room, was that the head of school, Mr. Kurtz, built his remarks around a single line.  At Exeter at the time, one was not permitted to walk on the grass at all.  The main line of his speech, to his student body, was “keep off the grass.”  It was, of course, a double entendre – for those not taking French, he had a double meaning.  I didn’t forget either of those meanings for the four years I was boarding there.

At Andover, we have a different rule.  You are encouraged to use the grass in one of those two senses.

I underscore the second meaning: do not ignore those rules of community conduct.  Students may not in any instances use drugs and alcohol on this campus.  For that matter, we expect you to uphold all of our community expectations with respect to how we treat one another – in everyday encounters and in intimate moments.  We expect you to know what we mean by consent and to act accordingly – and yes, I am now talking about sex.  If anything about our community expectations is unclear, come see me or a dean or your house counselor or advisor.  It’s essential that we are all on the same page at the start of the year about the rules.

This metaphor is useful in thinking about the balance we seek to strike at Andover.  I encourage you to zig-zag on purpose; not all who wander, as the saying goes, are lost.  Do have fun; do take routes that are not-exactly-linear as you make your way through the school; and do follow the rules, with fidelity, along the way.

A second context for footsteps, meant as a metaphor for the effect of our footsteps on Phillips Academy as an institution.

One small suggestion I have for all of you is that, during your time here, you find for yourselves a favorite spot, somewhere on campus.  We all need a part of the school that gives us a sense of serenity, or happiness, or hope, for those days when we need something to help us to re-center ourselves, to reflect, to recharge our batteries.

Now in my sixth year as Head of School, I have come to love many parts of campus:  the inside of SamPhil, because I teach US History there: this chapel, because I cherish being with all of you (I mean that); the entryway to the Addison; the reading room of the OWH Library; a small library area of Phelps House, where I live with my family.

My very favorite place on campus happens to be a staircase – actually, two staircases.  These stairs are the stairs leading from the first floor to the second floor of Paresky Commons.  There is something about progress upwards, toward the divine, or towards the future, that I like about them.  Perhaps it has to do with the food, which is very good.  But mostly it has to do with the steps themselves.

The steps have indentations in the marble – indentations made by generations of students, faculty and staff who have gone before us.  I love these indentations because they remind me that we are not alone in this journey, not alone today and not alone over time.

As I walk up those steps, I realize that I am making those indentations deeper than they were before.  If I put a foot in the deepest part, I am making that indentation just a bit deeper.  If I step where others have not stepped so often, perhaps closer to the middle of the stair, then I make a tiny mark where others have not so frequently walked.

I know that my steps do matter, as your head of school.  But I also know that my steps do not really matter any more than any of your steps.  Perhaps I weigh a bit more than some of you, so my indentation is a bit deeper, or my footfall heavier than yours is, as you sprint more quickly from the first to the second floor.  But none of us can change this place very quickly with our footsteps.  None of us can change those steps, all that much, on our own.  And we will be followed – there will be a sixteenth head of school.  There will be a class of 2048, perhaps with some of your children in it, or my grandchildren.

These steps bring to mind one of the most memorable conversations I’ve had with an alumnus of Andover.  One morning, in my first summer on the job, I was invited to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Paresky, in their home to have a glass of lemonade and to hear about Andover.  I asked them why they loved the school so much and why they had given us the generous gift to renovate the “Commons” into “Paresky.”  I loved what the Pareskys said that day: it had to do with how much the school had given to David Paresky as a student, and to their own daughter Pamela, in particular, when she followed him to the school.

But it also was about the way that Mr. Paresky thinks about obligation: the notion that he had been given much by the school, at an early age; that he had gone out and done well – and many good works, in the true non sibi spirit – in his life; and that he believed that he needed to be a steward of Andover, that he had an obligation to give back.  We all get more from Andover than we give, he told me, and he wanted to be sure that the students at Andover today know about both the wonderful opportunity that you have while you are here – seize it! – and also about the extent to which great institutions like Andover don’t just happen.  They become great because generation after generation, students have been mindful of their own footsteps here and then have given back, when they’ve moved on from life on campus, out of a sense of love for the place and also obligation.

And that’s the key point about the footsteps.  Our words and our deeds while we are at Andover matter, just as they matter after we are gone from here.

As I wrote to you this summer, our theme for the year is citizenship.  As you think about the mark you want to make at Andover, I urge you to do so in the context of the larger world – not just what is going on inside the Andover bubble.  I expect every Andover student to engage in the issues of our time.  This summer gave plenty of examples: senseless violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona; lives disrupted by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma; proposals to end and reform DACA; and on and on.  Andover students come from a long and proud tradition of making a mark in the world through their footsteps.  I expect us to continue that tradition and in doing so, to be informed, engaged, productive citizens of our communities, nations, and the world.

As we do so, we should have fun – good, wholesome fun, of course.  We should have picnics and games on the grass.  We will work hard and we should play a lot too, and enjoy this community that we are so lucky to be a part of.

Before we go, I’d like to do a few quick things.  I’ve been so happy to hear the joyful voices of all of you students lighting up this campus since the Blue Keys started to cheer on the corner as new students arrived.

First: Juniors, Lowers, Uppers: the seniors came in with a lot of spirit this morning.  I want all the juniors, lowers, and uppers, to make some noise in appreciation of those students who go before you.  Let’s hear it for the seniors!

Seniors, you get another shot.  Let’s hear it for the juniors, lowers, and uppers, who are following in your enormous footsteps!  Make some noise!

And last, after this last cheer, the All School Meeting is adjourned.  I want you to do one last cheer – hold on! – and then walk out of this chapel into brilliant sunshine, ideally with a big smile on your faces, and perhaps a little attention, in the back of your minds, to your footsteps as you go.

All students, you are going to do this last cheer.  You are surrounded, in this community, by some of the finest adults I have ever had the privilege of meeting.  This is a mindful, inspired, caring community of teachers – and citizens – who have CHOSEN to devote their professional lives – and in many respects, their personal lives, too, as they live in the dorms with you and eat together and play together – to your education.  For our last cheer of the day, Andover students, and as our last act as we leave the chapel: Let’s hear it for ALL the teachers on this campus!

Thank you – All School Meeting is dismissed.

Start-of-School Message for our 240th Year at Andover

Dear Phillips Academy students:

That school-is-about-to-start feeling is upon us. There are a few summer days left to enjoy, Labor Day weekend still to look forward to, and all the excitement of early fall just around the corner. I write in part just to say that I’m thinking of all of you and excited to see you in person shortly.

In spite of this excitement and the joy I feel in anticipating your return to campus, I’m also mindful of the powerful effect of recent events in Charlottesville. The violence that we witnessed exposes the lingering force of white supremacy in this country, which must be condemned in no uncertain terms. As a school devoted to educating youth from every quarter, we cannot stand idly by in the face of racial hatred and violence. We are committed to equity and inclusion in our community and in the world at large. We renounce – in our teaching, in how we run the school and how we interact with one another – the idea of a racial hierarchy. And we renounce the violence perpetrated in the service of this pernicious hatred.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a similar conversation over and over again. It’s a conversation about the United States of America, globalization, the media, and this moment in history. It’s also a conversation about education, learning and teaching, and how to be good citizens. As we start our 240th academic year, these issues are at the forefront of my mind and the minds of our faculty and staff at Andover.

In planning for how we will engage with you this year on campus, we re-affirm today our commitment to knowledge with goodness. Our job as adults at Andover is to teach the skills and impart the wisdom that you will need to be able to thrive after Andover – finis origine pendet. We seek to model the kind of goodness that we hope for you to embody as you develop and grow. Goodness calls for respect for one another; a commitment to learn with and from one another; civility in our interactions; support, empathy, and love for our peers in good times and in bad. Goodness means also that we hold ourselves and one another to a high moral standard. In so doing, we stand together in solidarity against hatred, bigotry, and violence.

Long before the summer took hold, we decided that the theme for this coming year at Andover will be about citizenship. As our theme for the year, citizenship strikes me as more apt than ever as we approach this particular fall. With all of you, I look forward to exploring what it means to be a citizen, both in the United States of America and in the countries from which many of you hail. I look forward to pushing hard on questions of civic duty, of moral obligation, of voting and participation. I look forward to asking hard questions about whether there can be such a thing as global citizenship in a world with so many different cultures and countries. As a United States History teacher, I can’t wait to explore with students the narrative of this country, what events and themes inform and connect to today’s events, and our hopes for a brighter future together. In All School Meetings, in advising groups and dormitories, in Paresky, in the Addison and the Peabody and OWH Library, and in all manner of classrooms, we will grapple with what it means to be citizens in a 21st century republic. I have every confidence that knowledge and goodness will emerge in ways large and small from this labor.

Enjoy these sweet last days of summer – and see you soon.

Sincerely,
John Palfrey

Head of School Bookshelf, 2016-2017 edition (combined)

Last academic year I kept up my tradition of putting out free copies of books on a bookshelf outside my office each term for the faculty to take and read but I didn’t manage to post the lists here on this blog as I went along.  (Not that anyone complained!)  I thought I’d put the lists out all at once before we launch into a new school year.

Fall 2016

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010)

Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Yale University Press, 2016)

Roberto Gonzales, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (University of California Press, 2015)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)

Lauret Savoy, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint Press, 2016)

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow (Viking, 2016)

Winter 2017

Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power and Passion of Persistence (Scribner, 2016)

Note: Prof. Duckworth visited with Tang Institute fellows and staff last Fall and will be back again on September 13 for a public engagement at PA. We expect to make many copies of her book available again courtesy of one of our trustees.

Nicholas Guyatt, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books, 2016)

Joi Ito and Jeff Howe: Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future (Grand Central, 2016)

Zadie Smith, Swing Time (Penguin, 2016)

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (Harper, 2016)

Bonus entry:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

Note: Astute observers will know that Mr. Coates’ book appeared on a previous HOS bookshelf.  It flew off the shelf at the time. I brought it back again as it was meant to be the subject of a town-wide reading program this spring.

Spring 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Knopf, 2017)

Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016)

Hisham Matar, The Return (Knopf, 2016)

Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays (Penguin, 2016)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Chessboard & the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World (Yale University Press, 2017)

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel and Grau, 2014)

I am working on this fall’s list and always welcome ideas of things to read!

July 31 Community Letter

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.

Statement regarding past abuse at Andover

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.

On the Executive Orders of January 2017

The President’s Executive Orders on immigration have prompted calls of concern from students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff at Andover. I’m sure that is true at all schools that are committed to a diverse student body and faculty. Last year, we had applicants from 96 different countries around the world. Every year, we admit students from dozens of countries. We explicitly seek students from a broad range of families, including when it comes to religious and cultural backgrounds, and once they are here, we seek to offer a school environment that values equity and inclusion as a core commitment. During this admissions season, I felt it important to state my personal reflections on these policies and how they relate to the goals I believe are at the heart of my job as a head of school.  I speak here in my personal capacity.

These Executive Orders have given rise to chaos, uncertainty, and fear. They have caused people to wonder whether coming to the United States to study at a school like Andover makes sense these days.  They make our current students wonder if they should travel abroad for college interviews, spring break, and Learning in the World trips we have organized to expose our students to other cultures.  They cause real confusion for adults who seek to give good advice to our students.

No one can predict how long these new rules on immigration and travel will stand, whether the legal challenges from states and individuals might succeed, or what might follow them. In each community, we can and should make very clear our values and how we can be expected to act. We can create, in our own academic homes, a sense of clarity against the backdrop of rapid policy changes. Andover is blessed to have clear and well-expressed values to guide those of us entrusted to run it.

The first and most obvious value that must govern how we act is our commitment to Youth from Every Quarter. Our Constitution is explicit on this front: our Academy is to be ever equally open to youth from every quarter of requisite merit. This 230+ year old commitment is not to youth from some or many quarters, it is to youth from every quarter. Today, we speak also of educating all youth regardless of their religion, not youth of some religions. We proudly have students who are Muslim as well as Jewish students, students who practice many Christian faiths, students who are Hindu, and students who tell us they are agnostic or atheist and more. We welcome them all to Andover and celebrate their presence with us. No action by the government can make us change this policy of inclusion.

The second value that has been much on my mind is the notion of in loco parentis. This idea is not so much a founding value as it is a commitment between our school and the parents who entrust their children to our care for the school year. We promise to care for their children as if we were their parents. We do that in partnership with parents and guardians, near and far. We take this trust to be a sacred one. It keeps me up more nights than I’d care to admit. We worry like parents about the kids in our care. And so: if someone were to come for one of our students, I would act like a parent would act if someone were to come after one of my children. We should stand up to threats to our students.  Of course we must follow the law as an institution, but we also can and should use the law and lawyers to resist any attempts to harm our students and their places at Andover and their right to religious freedom.

There has been much talk of universities and schools committing to be “sanctuaries” for students. There is merit in this idea but there is also a lot of debate as to what it means, in a legal sense. I would simplify how I see it: I aspire for our school to be a home for our students–a home away from home to be sure–one where our youth from every quarter and from every religion know that they will have every protection we can manage, just as we would offer our own children at home.

Our schools should redouble our efforts to be caring, inclusive, loving places where every student is valued.  As I have listened to our students and adults on campus, I have heard an outpouring of this positive spirit–pure and simple compassion for one another regardless of background.  Many of us are finding few silver linings in the chaos of these policies when it comes to running schools, but surely this outpouring is one of them.

And we should teach.  Our commitment to academic excellence must not waver at these times; instead, we should stay laser-focused on our core task.  I resist the idea that any academic community should become distracted from this central endeavor.  These are teaching moments.  There are legitimate discussions that we can and should have about immigration law and policy and their implications.  Our students will jump at this chance to engage in interesting work and to have agency.  Of all the ways to make a difference, a life lived with young people in pursuit of knowledge, the truth, character, justice, and all that is right and good in the world is an awfully good one.  What a chance we have in this way, in this moment, with these kids and these colleagues.  Let’s not squander it.

 

Guest Blog Post: Trustee Steve Sherrill, on the All School Meeting Address He Would Have Given

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.