“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

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.

 

Commencement Address, Phillips Academy 2016

Commencement Address
Phillips Academy, Andover
June 5, 2016
John Palfrey

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.

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Head of School Bookshelf, Winter, 2016 Edition

For the cozy Sundays in New England, with snow lying all around (as it is this morning in Andover, MA), here’s the line-up of books I have put out on the Head of School bookshelf for faculty at Phillips Academy:

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.  I re-read it over the winter holiday break and was glad I did.  Originally published in 1963, The Fire Next Time seemed an apt choice to pair with Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Michelle Alexander linked the two in her elegant August, 2015 piece in the New York Times Book Review.

Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, Slut: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence.  The cast of “Slut” performed on the Phillips Academy campus for our students, faculty, staff, and parents last month.  They were astonishing.  As we educators and parents all grapple with how to contend with sexual violence, ongoing changes in adolescent culture, and the power of both silence and speaking up, this work is powerful.

Ta Nehisi-Coates, Between the World and Me.  So much has been said and written about this book and why it is important that I probably can’t add anything meaningful, other than encouragement to read it.  It’s not easy or optimistic or pleasurable (other than in appreciating the prose itself and the power of the narrative).  Its critical and popular reception speak to its timeliness and resonance.

Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.  I am a believer in a future of education that connects the traditional, offline mode of teaching and learning with the best aspects of the online, often informal modes.  This book is a helpful resource for those interested in what a blend of the disruptive with the tried-and-true could look like.

Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era.  This book is fun: the experience is of listening in on a dinner-party conversation between three of the leading scholars of the digital age.  In an interactive way, they each reflect on the work they’ve done in this fast-changing field and on what they think is most salient about it.  I make it a point to read just about everything they write.  Here, they are all together in a single text.

Janice Y.K. Lee, The Expatriates.  Before my last Head of School Bookshelf, a faculty colleague at Andover challenged me to add fiction to the mix, so I’m planning to include at least one each time.  I chose Janice Lee’s second novel for the expatriate experience it describes.  The themes will sound familiar to those who have lived abroad or whose children are living abroad — say, at a boarding school.  Pair it with Lee’s first novel, The Piano Teacher, for a great education on Hong Kong expat life between the end of the second World War and today.  Maggie Pouncey, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called Lee “a female, funny Henry James in Asia.”

Introduction of George H.W. Bush at All School Meeting, Phillips Academy

This morning, President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush surprised our student body by joining us for All School Meeting in Cochran Chapel at Phillips Academy.  The All School Meeting featured Mary Kate Cary and the film she produced, “41 on 41,” about the life of President Bush.

Good morning, Andover.

This morning we gather to reflect, as we often do, on Phillips Academy’s motto, non sibi: not for oneself. We have many role models among those who have gone before us at Andover. Some of them have generously presented at All School Meetings, sharing with us in this chapel their stories of what it was about their time at Andover that motivated them to live a life embodying the non sibi credo. Last year Dr. Vanessa Kerry ’95, founder of the non-profit SEED Global Health, encouraged you to consider how you might make a difference. Next month author Julia Alvarez ’67 will talk about how she employs storytelling to ignite awareness and activism for humanitarian causes.

Today, in celebration of non sibi, we welcome Mary Kate Cary who has created a film assembling the voices of 41 people describing an Andover alumnus who has dedicated his life to public service in a remarkable career spanning seven decades, in multiple roles, culminating in serving in our nation’s highest office. That alumnus is George Herbert Walker Bush, Andover class of 1942.

As a White House speechwriter from 1988 to 1992, Mary Kate Cary authored over 100 domestic and international addresses by President Bush. She is a member of the advisory board to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. She has remained in close contact with the President, collaborating with him on book projects, including Speaking of Freedom, a collection of the President’s favorite speeches. Mary Kate is a contributing editor and columnist at US News and World Report and a regular political commentator on National Public Radio. Still a speechwriter, she works with a variety of political and corporate clients and has taught speechwriting at Georgetown, American, and Texas A&M Universities. Mary Kate’s relationship with the President gave her unique insights as the executive producer of the film 41 on 41. The film captures the words of the President’s family and colleagues to portray George Bush’s deep commitment to service and leadership and his generous capacity for friendship and humor.

Before Mary Kate begins her presentation, I’d like to welcome some special guests who have joined us today:

• President Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis, mother of Alexander Ellis, Andover class of 1967

• Dick Phelps, Andover class of 1942, the President’s close friend and baseball teammate at Yale

• Dick’s wife, Sally Phelps, mother of Andover alumni in the classes of 1973 and 89, and grandmother of Matthew Jacobs ’14

In addition, we have the privilege of welcoming to the chapel this morning one of the 41 storytellers featured in the film. In fact, she is the chief story teller. Please join me in welcoming to the stage of Cochran Chapel, Mrs. Barbara Bush, and her husband, the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, Andover class of 1942.

Welcome back, President Bush, and thank you, Mrs. Bush, for joining us here today. We are honored by your presence – and by the lifetime of good choices you have made to serve others, in the spirit of non sibi.

George Herbert Walker Bush, you arrived at Andover as a twelve year old boy and graduated six years later as a young man, immediately immersing yourself in service to your country during World War II.

During your Andover years, you demonstrated a commitment to leadership, involved in community service and student government, serving as a proctor and captain of the soccer and baseball teams. You won your first Presidential election here – you served Andover as Senior Class President. You were known as “Poppy” Bush, renowned for your ability to rally others and to encourage your peers to engage in The Big Ideas of the Day. As President of the Society of Inquiry you organized lectures on world affairs and religious topics.

During your senior year, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, you and your schoolmates heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The following June, on your 18th birthday, you deferred your acceptance to Yale and instead were sworn in to the Navy as a Seaman Second Class. The following year you became the nation’s youngest Naval aviator and served with distinction in the Pacific arena, flying 58 combat missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

After the war, you earned your degree from Yale Phi Beta Kappa, embarked on a career in the petroleum sector, and entered a life of public service in 1966. You have served in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives, from Texas. Other leaders recognized your acumen and people skills, appointed you as Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. You were elected Vice-President in 1981 and, in 1988, became the 41st President of the United States.

Throughout this illustrious career, you remained loyal and close to Andover. You served as a trustee from 1963 – 1979 and then as honorary chair of Campaign Andover, the most successful capital campaign in independent school history when it closed at $208.9M in 2003. In recognition of your public service and global leadership, you received Phillips Academy’s two highest honors: the Claude Moore Fuess Award in 1981 and the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction in 2012.

During your Presidency you offered inspired leadership during an era of great change in the world order: the unification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. You led efforts to improve global wellbeing through the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to improve environmental wellbeing through significant amendments to the Clean Air Act, and to personal wellbeing through the creation of the American with Disabilities Act.

You consistently encouraged American citizens to inspire and mobilize each other to take action to change the world through “service to neighbor, service to nation.” In your words, ”What government alone can do is limited, but the potential of the American people knows no bounds.” You called your fellow citizens to action as volunteers. Your vision for “a thousand points of light” lives on through the foundation of the same name. You twice joined with former political opponent, now friend, former President Bill Clinton to lead major humanitarian fundraising efforts in response to natural disasters after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In 2010 President Obama awarded you the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, citing your life as a “testament that public service is a noble calling. His humility and decency reflects the very best of the American spirit.”

Mr. President, you reflect the very best of Andover’s non sibi spirit. Today we have seven Bush scholars among us. These students were chosen for their outstanding character and leadership potential. Their Andover career is underwritten by a scholarship fund set up by the trustees to “honor and encourage the example George Bush’s life represents – a model of civic commitment, loyalty, and social responsibility embodying the best of both America and Andover.”  We thank you for your example – a life of non sibi – and for the inspiration that you provide to every new generation of Andover students.