All School Meeting: Post-Election, November 9, 2016

Good morning, Andover.

We gather here in All-School Meeting after a night that goes down in American history as one of the most unpredictable and anxiety-provoking any of us has ever witnessed. I am well aware that this morning there is a wide range of emotions in this Chapel: for some, despair, fear, anger, and similar emotions roll around in your gut and in your head; for others, there may be gladness at the outcome; for still others, a sense of steeliness and resolve; and so on. I am glad we have this place to come together. I am glad we have one another to be with, in the midst of a nation and a world that is so plainly divided.

I want to share some thoughts with you that are not directed at any one person or any one group, but at all of us – all of us – in this community. After that, we will have a short piece of reflective music from the chamber orchestra. Mrs. Elliott and Mrs. Griffith also have some words to share with you.  And then, the Chapel will be open for us to remain and talk together until the next period begins.

This morning, I am focusing my own thoughts on why I came to Andover. I came here because I recognized and admired in this community the values that are most important to me. I know we talk about these values a lot in this Chapel, in All School Meeting, and I think it is more important than ever that we take the time this morning to reflect on them here together. I choose to spend these moments today thinking about what is in our control and what we can manage, right here and now, at Andover – to be part of the healing and part of the solution to a problem of divisiveness that is undeniable this morning in America.

We start with Non Sibi. We embrace together the idea that thinking and acting for others must guide our lives – not for self. Andover has stood for this value for 239 years and it will for ever more. I call on us today, and in the days to come, to can act with the empathy and kindness toward one another that is at the heart of the Non Sibi spirit. That is hard, I am certain, for those who feel attacked and abandoned this morning, and there are many who do. Non Sibi teaches us at Andover to be a community guided by love and tolerance. It is on all of us to ensure that everyone here feels that love and support.

Second: knowledge and goodness. We stand for the idea that it not enough just to be smart, just to have a head filled with the knowledge of books; we stand for the idea that character is as essential to education as our book-learning is. At the same time, our founding values emphasize that it is also not enough just to be good – that the knowledge that comes from hard work, the hard kind of work you know so well as Andover students, really matters. I take heart today in both aspects of this commitment: that we see it as our job to focus on both mind and morals as we go through this journey together, as students and teachers.

For some people, in your comments and your bearing this morning, I sense a certain despair – a sense of “why bother”? I hope and trust that, as we reflect on this election, that those who feel grief and despair today can turn those feelings over time into a commitment – a clear sense of exactly why to bother – why, exactly, we absolutely must bother with both knowledge and goodness, why all that hard work – on both your skills and your goodness – matters so very much.

Third: youth from every quarter. I want to be very clear that there is a place for everyone at Andover – no matter where you come from, who your parents are, how much money you have. I want to be clear that there is also a place at Andover for you no matter whether you are a conservative or a liberal. Our commitment to youth from every quarter is not partial; our commitment is absolute. This Academy shall be ever equally open to youth from every quarter. Those words are supposed to mean what they say – and we are all called upon, every one of us, to make them come true.

The thing that hurts the most about this election, for many people – and here, I speak for myself, too – is that too much of the rhetoric has been about exclusion, not inclusion; it has been about hate and not about love; it has been about putting some people above others. The conversation has not been about an America that I recognize – a land in which literally every person, by definition, came from another place or from the Native American nations that were on this very land before the European settlers arrived.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: there is absolutely no place for that kind of divisive and hateful rhetoric at Andover. We can disagree about laws and policies and politics – and, in fact, we must. But we cannot embrace the hateful aspects of the campaign we have just witnessed. Hate, in all its forms, is inconsistent with the values of this school, as they were written and as we now interpret them. We are a place where we invite people from all over the world, based solely on their abilities and their promise, to live, work, and play together. There is no student more valued than any other student; there is no adult more valued than any other adult. No election, nothing that could happen in politics can change that fact.

To every student at Andover: you have a place here that you have earned and which you earn every day through your good conduct and your hard work. You have adults here who have chosen to spend our professional lives with you because we believe in you, what you stand for, and what you will go on to do.

I do not want to hear about anyone acting with disrespect toward anyone else based on who they are, their race, where they came from, their faith, their beliefs, or any other reason of this sort. That is not what Andover is about. There is a better way and we must find it. And for those who disagree or act otherwise, we need to talk. You know where to find me in GW.

The very hardest problem at the heart of this election, for me, is the paradox of tolerance. Please forgive me this short foray into political philosophy, but I think you will get what I mean in a moment. At Andover, we teach tolerance. I doubt anyone here would disagree with that – I hope and trust that no one here would disagree with that. It is extremely easy to be a tolerant person when everyone around you is tolerant. It is easy to tolerate the tolerant, if you get what I mean. If we all commit to this principle, things go well. I hope at Andover we can indeed all commit to a deep, abiding sense of tolerance.

The problem with tolerance is when it comes to the intolerant. To the extent that some people in society are intolerant of other people – and we know that to be true – there becomes, all of a sudden, a problem with tolerance. The tolerant are called upon to tolerate the intolerant (who, in turn, are not asked to tolerate anyone). And to some degree, in a democracy, we must – that is part of the deal. We do not just give votes to the tolerant. And it is true that we grow and learn when we tolerate the views of others with whom we disagree.

What I believe is that there must be a point at which the tolerant are allowed to be intolerant of those who are intolerant. Our study of history points to many examples when it was a terrible mistake to tolerate intolerance for too long. This is the paradox of tolerance – and it is much on my mind today. Each one of us must find for ourselves that point. For me, that point is here, where I insist that we value all our students and their well-being equally.

As a school, I believe we must do everything we can to focus on building tolerance and love for one another so we do not find ourselves faced with this very paradox – a true paradox in the sense that it cannot be resolved when it gets to that point. As a leader of this community, I will give a very wide berth to the conversations we need to have about politics and difference. But intolerance of one another is something that we must resist.

Last concept, for now anyway: Finis Origine Pendet. The end depends upon the beginning. I love this concept because it emphasizes how much what happens here, matters to what happens out there, in the broader world. It matters because who you become when you leave Andover and what you do is grounded in who you are and what you do when you are here.

There is one idea that has been puzzling me since I got to Andover that I wanted to toss out to you this morning, on this topic of Finis Origine Pendet. One thing that adults often remark upon is the extent to which young people today are not interested in the political process – that you do not believe in the institutions of government and that you do not aspire to run for office or serve in the military or in the civil service.

I am quick to point out, by the way, what I know from research and from being with all of you: your civic activism is actually at a very high level historically, but you tend to prefer NGOs, social entrepreneurship, and approaches that are outside of the formal government processes.

One aspect of Andover’s history, as I trust you all know, is that we have produced in the past graduates who have gone on to be presidents, senators, representatives, judges, military leaders, and leaders of the civil service. In fact, last night, we all re-elected an Andover graduate, Seth Moulton, to represent this very district in the United States Congress.

I mention all this because I hope that this election, wherever you stood, will make you think about whether a life in politics – or at least active engagement in politics – is worth your time. I believe it is and I hope you will do. In fact, I think the health of our republic, and republics around the world, depends upon your doing so.

Our founding values at Andover are inextricably tied to the founding values of America. In both cases, the words are (mostly) very beautiful and inspiring. In both cases, we have lived up to them only in part. At Andover, I believe we can and will live up to ours, and in so doing, both support one another here, and support the healing of our world. Out of many, we must can and must be one – e Pluribus Unum.

This morning, as we wake up to a divided nation and a world of hurt and anger, I find I am devoted more than ever to the central cause that brought me to Andover: to help to make this residential school an example of a tolerant, loving, diverse, serious, hard-working, supportive, unbreakable community. Andover can be a symbol of unity and healing in a world that feels awfully divided and broken. No matter where we come from, we all have great good fortune in being here at this school, right now. In my view, we have no choice – no choice – but to roll up our sleeves even higher than we did yesterday to make this community, to make Andover, a beacon of hope – a beacon of hope for this country and for the world.  Thank you.