Thirtieth Anniversary of Andover’s GSA and Trans Rights

This weekend, the Andover community celebrates the thirtieth annual weekend gathering of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.).  This important milestone merits attention and reflection.  The G.S.A. has played a central role in supporting students (and adults, for that matter) of all genders and sexualities on campus at Andover.

This week also marks the publication by the New York Times of a memo obtained by the Trump Administration about a proposal to “define out of existence” transgender persons.

I stand with the editors of the Phillipian, Andover’s independent student newspaper, in their opposition to this policy.  They note, correctly, that this proposed policy “has cast a shadow over the celebrations” of the G.S.A.’s thirtieth anniversary.  In this week’s paper, the Phillipian editorialized:

Regardless of this legal statement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, we hope that the members of the Andover community will continue to support and love each other, and accept everyone for their unique identities and backgrounds. Andover is a community thoroughly and perpetually committed to diversity, and no announcement or any administration will change that commitment. In the face of these alarming news headlines and government-issued statements, the Andover community must recommit to its values of Non Sibi, compassion, and kindness, and never succumb to the pressures of fear, difference, and hate.

My friend Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, also published an article on this proposed policy that made me think — as all Joi’s writing does.  I’m with Joi when he writes:

And so, in the face of an appalling and nonsensical step backwards in government policy, I’d like to offer my support to all trans, gender non-conforming, and/or nonbinary members of the Media Lab and MIT community. More broadly, I’m calling on leaders of academic communities to speak out on this issue and be very clear that they see, they support, they affirm, and they will protect trans people in their communities.

This proposed policy is inconsistent with our belief in not only bringing Youth from Every Quarter to Andover but also in supporting them during their growth, no matter their gender or sexuality.  It is also inconsistent with Andover’s Statement of Purpose in which we affirm our commitment to “a deeper awareness of the global community” and our non-discrimination policy affirming that “we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression…and sexual orientation.”  We affirm the full humanity and diversity of our students and all those in our adult community.

This issue of equal rights for all is not only a matter of federal law and policy.  Those who live in Massachusetts have a chance to weigh in on this topic on Election Day — November 6, 2018 — as well.  The topic of transgender rights is on the ballot as Question 3.  The official description of all ballot questions appears on the Secretary of State’s website.

Adolescence is a complicated time no matter who you are.  Those young people who are questioning their gender and sexuality deserve support, affirmation, and love, just as all students do.  No federal or state policy can change that in our community.

Remarks at Richard T. Greener Quadrangle Dedication

Richard T. Greener Quadrangle dedication
September 29, 2018
John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy

Welcome students and parents, faculty and staff, trustees and alumni to the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle.

Thank you, Linda Carter Griffith, for blazing your own trail as the first Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion and Wellness—not only at Andover but among independent schools anywhere.

Thank you, Ava and Thaddeus. Your words remind us why this work is so vitally important and exactly what this ceremony symbolizes.

Rejji Hayes ’93: Your commitment to the ideals of equity and inclusion strengthens our resolve to act with courage and urgency on behalf of each of our 1,144 students. We felt the impact of your leadership at the 50th anniversary of AfLatAm last spring, when more than 400 alumni returned to campus to celebrate a foundational source of these efforts.

Building on the work of generations and guided by the priorities of the Knowledge and Goodness campaign, we join today to mark the history of Andover’s connections with underrepresented communities and highlight our commitment to equity and inclusion.
None of this would be possible without the vision of a singular donor. As much as we would like to put this person’s name in lights, we are respecting their wish for anonymity.

Please join me in a round of applause for the incredibly generous donor who made today’s dedication possible.

With humility and purpose, this individual asks us to reflect and act upon a founding principle of our school in the name of Richard T. Greener, Class of 1865. Our benefactor states:

We honor one man to represent all those who have enriched the Academy through the diversity of their thought and backgrounds and those who, for generations to come, will help Andover live up to its ideal of youth from every quarter.

With enthusiastic support of the Board of Trustees, we have the great privilege to honor the trailblazing work of Mr. Greener, a scholar and teacher, lawyer and diplomat, whose service during the post-Civil War era both inspired progress and ignited debate.
All that he stood for – argued for and educated others about – embodied the ideals of equity and inclusion to which we aspire today.

With Samuel Phillips Hall rising above us, the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle holds a special place in our Andover lives. Just three weeks ago, the senior class and I took part in the Vista Walk, a tradition begun by my predecessor, Barbara Chase. The early morning walk toward the steps of Sam Phil marks the first day of classes. The next time we share that walk, we will be joined by the entire faculty on June 2, 2019, Andover’s 241st Commencement.

This gathering space shines with natural beauty and historic significance. Last spring, students gathered here to protest gun violence. In 1989 a student demonstration, led by Brian Gittens ’89, ultimately led to the school’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

As we dedicate our most iconic patch of land, the trustees and I are excited to share that an additional gift will establish an endowed fund to advance equity and inclusion programs in Mr. Greener’s name.

It is truly gratifying to know that our extended Andover community believes as deeply as we do in the importance of these initiatives that benefit both the adults and students on our campus.

In fact, philanthropy in honor of Mr. Greener dates back to 1989 when a scholarship was established in his name. Seeking to support underrepresented students of color, the Richard T. Greener 1865 Endowed Scholarship has made a difference in the lives of more than a dozen Andover students spanning three decades.

Two Andover alumni and Greener Scholars were present in spring 2016 when Harvard recognized Mr. Greener with a portrait on display in Annenberg Dining Hall. One of those alumni, Robert Rush ’14, and his mom, Arlette, are with us today.

We’re also delighted to have our current Greener Scholar joining us—senior Jamille “Jami” Taveras ’19 of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  In a letter to the donors who established her scholarship, Jami reflects on the opportunities that have, in her words, “propelled her education and redefined what it means to go for things I want in life.”

Our admission team meets thousands of bright and motivated students with a host of talents and interests. But in simplest terms, they are looking for young people of integrity and promise who have the most to contribute to Andover and the most to gain from this diverse community and immersive education.

Jami is exactly that student.

Like most of her peers, Jami’s schedule is packed with academic rigor and extracurricular passions. Fluent in Spanish and proud of her Latina heritage, Jami is co-president of the Spanish Club and on the board of Alianza Latina. She co-founded the Criminal Investigation Club to bond with other students who share a passion for science, math, and psychology. And, yes, in addition to analyzing fingerprints, they do watch episodes of CSI!

Jami wrote:

It feels good to know there are a lot of people on my side, lifting me up and taking pride in my success.

Judging by what we know about Mr. Greener, my hunch is that he, too, would be proud of students like Jami, and Robert, and all those who have come before them.
Consider what Mr. Greener shared with his Andover classmates when he returned to campus for his 50th reunion in 1915. Reflecting on his diplomatic service in Vladivostok, Russia, at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, he said the following:

“I felt all the time that the institutions with which I had been connected—Phillips Academy and Harvard—had demanded something of me in character, intelligence and in worth.”

Richard T. Greener was an intellectual force and a visionary leader whose character blossomed at Andover. The qualities he displayed as a student were instrumental years later as he navigated civil rights issues and international conflicts. These are the kinds of qualities we see in our students today—rigor and purpose in their work, shared values of knowledge and goodness, respect for differences.

I’d like to close with a final word from Mr. Greener’s address to his Andover classmates. His reflection, more than 100 years ago, rings true today as we aspire to become a more inclusive and equitable Andover.

If one have not the disposition in him, it makes no matter what school he is trained, he will not be a success. It is the desire to prove oneself worthy of all estate and lead his comrades on.

On behalf of the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, I dedicate the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle and ask that we all prove ourselves worthy of this important endeavor.

Thank you.

Start of School 2018

The New York Times published a terrific Magazine this Sunday on education.  The cover reads: “Teachers just want to teach but the classroom has become a battleground.”  I’m not sure that’s exactly “news” this fall but it is absolutely true.

Two of the articles in particular were worth reading and reflecting on as we start our new school year.  The first, “Can Good Teaching be Taught?” by Sara Mosle, tells the story of a struggling school and its persistent, hard-working first-year principal Cynthia Gunner.  The reporter follows Gunner as she goes classroom-to-classroom to inspire, hold accountable, and assist the teachers in her school.  The answer to the opening question is “of course” but the finding is also that it’s much easier said than done.  It’s hard not to be fired up by the work of this principal and the importance of her efforts.

The second that caught my attention was “Watch What You Say,” about the (former?) Friends Seminary teacher Ben Frisch who made a Hitler joke last school year.  This story, told by Jonathan Mahler, is especially sensitive to Frisch’s position and that of his supporters; the voices of those who initially called for Frisch’s removal — other than that of the Head of School Bo Lauder — are essentially silent.  I wonder if those who initially were so upset about the remarks by Frisch have changed their minds, whether they were reluctant to go on the record at this stage, or whether another reason attaches. The hard over-arching question has to do with how to ensure free expression can thrive in schools while also supporting a diverse group of young learners effectively.

It is just these questions that I sought to address in a book last year, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (free, open access edition here.  I won’t second-guess here the decision of another school, where I don’t know all the facts, but acknowledge instead that these cases are never easy for students, teachers, administrators, and families in close-knit school communities.  We do need to get better at figuring out how to resolve them.  I was intrigued by the emphasis in the article on the Quaker process.

Both articles in the NYT Magazine demonstrate the importance of deep, long-form journalism to explore tricky issues in-depth.

“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.

All-School Meeting Introduction: Laci Green

All-School Meeting Opening Remarks, Phillips Academy

September 28, 2016

Good morning, Andover. We gather today, early in the school year, to begin our exploration of our values as a school. You are by now deeply ensconced in your classes, clubs, arts and sports. We are also deeply engaged in the work of what kind of a community we will have this year at Andover – how we will support one another, develop as young people (and as adults for that matter), and treat one another. In that work, I would urge you to be guided by the values of our school.

Today, we take up the theme of goodness and knowledge, in a very particular context. For those who were here last year, you will recall that we began, early in the Fall, with an ASM focused on sex and sexuality. I know that can seem shocking to some ears, but it is true – we are talking about sex in this chapel today, as we start the year, and we believe it to be very important that we do so.

Before I turn things over to those who will introduce Laci Green, our guest today, I want to share with you just a few brief thoughts of my own. For some of you, this discussion of sex and sexuality may seem too early to be talking about it. After all, you have just gotten here and you are still trying to find your way at Andover. I also want to be clear that our discussion of sex and sexuality is not intended as encouragement. We strongly support those who abstain from sexual intimacy at Andover and believe that to be a positive and healthy choice.

At the same time, we are aware that sex does take place in all high schools, and that Andover is no exception. You certainly tell us as much in the State of the Academy Survey and otherwise, and we take your words seriously.

We also take seriously what you tell us about sexual assault on our campus. You tell us that it does happen at Andover, and that it has happened to some of you gathered in this room. You tell us that sexual assault is carried out by your classmates at Andover and also by people you meet off campus. Given what we have all read about surveys on college campuses – the astonishing reports of last year that sometimes a third, and sometimes more, of young women experience sexual assault during colleges – we are heartbroken, we are outraged, and we know we have to do something, here at Andover. It is in this context that we begin today.

Let me make it clear: we cannot and we will not tolerate a rape culture at Andover. As adults, we will take seriously all claims of sexual misconduct that you bring to us. When that happens, we will treat everyone involved with the highest degree of respect and fairness that we can muster.

Andover: make no mistake: this one’s on us. This issue is not just for college campuses – it’s for our campus, and I know that we can together make a difference through the way we conduct ourselves, through the way we lead – with both knowledge and goodness.

It is my pleasure to turn the program over to Dr. Flavia Vidal and Larson Tolo, class of 2018.

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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