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.

34 thoughts on “All School Meeting: Post-Election, November 9, 2016

  1. Odd that the Headmaster names a Congressman who is a Democrat. He fails to mention Andover’s Republican graduates, including two former U.S. Presidents and a former Governor of Florida. It would have been nice to hear a few words about protecting U.S. National Security. Edmund P. Hurley, PAA 1982

    • He only mentioned the Congressman because he was just elected in this cycle and is a local politician. Headmaster Palfrey mentions past Presidents and we all know who they are. I think he did a great job in remaining neutral and focusing on something greater than politics. Please remember this is a speech for high school students and didn’t need to delve into issues like National Security or anything beyond the safety of the student body. Please also try to move beyond the division and just seek peace. This is a tough time for our divided nation and we should focus on healing and coming together despite our differences. Roxanne Matiz, PA 2006

    • Edmund: your conventional critique of right / left politics is irrelevant here — this is about defining the bedrock values that make political disagreement even possible. John has done a terrific job articulating that some of Andover’s values are non-negotiable.

    • Dear Mr. Hurley: Fair enough — I absolutely should have mentioned, e.g., Bruce Poliquin ’71 (R-ME), re-elected also yesterday but I did not have the presence of mind to do so this morning. Cong. Poliquin did an outstanding job visiting campus last spring, including guest-teaching in my US History class. And surely by reference to both Presidents Bush as well as our many military leaders in active service — here and in many other forums — the students know too of my gratitude and pride in their service as Andover graduates. -John Palfrey

    • I actually think that Mr. Hurley’s comments about left-right politics were not irrelevant here. On the contrary, he said what needed to be said. As someone who knows Andover’s recent student mindset, having been there myself, I see the following problem: that tolerating intolerance is fine, so long as it’s from the right. There seems to be a discrepancy on where intolerance actually lies, and that the left has none of it.

      People seem to overlook the fact that Planned Parenthood was started by someone who favored eugenics (Margaret Sanger gave speeches to the KKK with full knowledge that it was an extremist group), or the fact that republicans outvoted democrats for civil rights in 1964. Or that there’s evidence suggesting that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton misappropriated funds to help the friends of her husband first after the earthquake in Haiti, instead of the people who needed it most. If you’re conservative, and not apologetic about it, the idea that you’re allowed to be attacked for your views publicly in the name of shutting down intolerance, is pretty accepted. It’s one of the reasons I crossed several colleges off my list, and one of the reasons I don’t think I had as good of an Andover experience as I could have. We forget that democrats past and present have an equal history of intolerance, and that if both sides are subject to being screamed at, perhaps neither should be.

      To the 1100+ kids in that audience, when they heard the words, “What I believe is that there must be a point at which the tolerant are allowed to be intolerant of those who are intolerant,” I think a lot of them are going to see it as a free pass to call anybody who supported Trump a sexist homophobe. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I got called that… 6 times publicly at Andover that I remember and probably a lot more times behind my back. I remember actually being shouted at for 15 minutes my lower year in lower left of Commons for being pro-life. For the first two years, I didn’t mind. For the last two years, I stopped speaking about it.

      I think it’s interesting that screaming at someone over their lunch isn’t considered intolerance, and neither is having an article published in the Huffington Post that Trump supporters should be heavily dealt with. And neither is staging an alternative protest after people have sat down for Memorial Day on the steps of SamPhil (this last one I may redact depending on whether the protest was staged in advance and interrupted ours coincidentally; however, it looked shady). People will degree with the left, but we refer to it as civil discourse, not intolerance of those with different views. From the right, disagreement is intolerance. There seems to be this idea that even listening to someone from the right is tolerating someone with backwards views, someone’s said as much to me.

      I know Mr. Palfrey isn’t one of the people to perpetuate that mindset. As a head of school, I found Mr. Palfrey to be one of the most fair-minded people I had encountered there, and his policies reflected that fair-mindedness. He was one of the reasons I stayed when people at home encouraged me to move back. The problem is, in a hyper-liberal community like the one Andover has, I can only think that those words are going to mobilize people to make fun of people who chose trump for reasons other than “Build the Wall,” or who may have simply voted against Hillary because they found her policy record to be even more discriminatory. I agree that blatant intolerance should be dealt with, but I’m worried that a speech like this to an audience such as ours might have an entirely different effect.

  2. Dear Mr. Palfrey: On a day when I am heartbroken and ashamed of what our nation has just done, you have made me proud of my school and hopeful for the future.
    Frank Velie PA ’60

    • Frank – Although I voted for the losing candidate in this election, I did so despite feeling that she herself was far from a perfect candidate, in part because she exhibited significant intolerance in her dismissal of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables”. I would bet that many of the 60 million or so people who voted against her, in an election which in many ways was more about who you were voting against than who you were voting for, took that rejection to heart. It has been pointed out that FDR, LBJ and Bill Clinton successfully included many of the voters who subsequently became known as Reagan Democrats in their winning coalitions. While Obama was successful in fashioning a somewhat different coalition, the post election analysis also indicates that Hillary failed to connect with millennials and minority voters to the same extent and thus failed to keep his coalition together.
      So, I think it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump phenomenon as merely a display of intolerable intolerance, to extend Mr. Palfrey’s word plays in a slightly different direction. As a couple of the responses from recent students indicate, some of them have experienced intolerant and dismissive attitudes, sometimes belligerently so, from both teachers and their fellow students when their expressed views were not in keeping with the majority opinion. I think Mr. Palfrey’s message would have been more effective had it recognized that today’s bitter divisiveness is a byproduct of intolerance from both sides of the political spectrum and that any pathway to being a “community guided by love and tolerance” must include a recognition of that reality – and that any moderation of that divisiveness will require a display of not just tolerance but genuine respect by each side of the other’s point of view.
      Hope all is well with you otherwise.

  3. Thank you, John. This is both balm and a rallying cry. Rolling up my sleeves for all the work that lies ahead and grateful for my ties to a school and community that is truly a beacon of light in this world.

    Brett Cook, Abbot ’72

  4. Mr. Palfrey,
    Thank you. It’s apparent that students of Andover do not stop learning from the place when they graduate. Your words have more meaning than you could know.
    -PA student 2003-2016, diploma in ’06

  5. Thank you so much for bringing such attention to tolerance. Too often I find that many will not listen and respect the opinion of others, actually belligerently shouting down those not in agreement. This latest test in our 240 history begs the question(s), what are the messages, where can we as Americans find common ground & what can we do to be sure that all Americans can have a better tomorrow.

  6. Utter crap. Sorry but I find it remarkable you find it necessary to offer up this long winded defence of tolerance. I suspect this would not have been offered up had Mrs. Clinton been elected. If Andover students truly need this amount of weak kneed reassurance then they are not being well-prepared for the world.

    • Cincinnatus: I find it ironic that you speak of “weak kneed reassurances” in your venomous post and yet you need the reassurance that your name is not attached…

      Mr Palfrey: I stand aligned with Mr. Velie in that you have strengthened my pride in my beloved school. Thank you…

      Kyle O’Brien – Tucker House ’98

      • To Kyle and Cincinnatus: First, the wee hours of the morning are perhaps not the time most of us do our most well-considered writing.
        Second: avoiding ad-hominem attacks is a big part of what Headmaster Palfrey was trying to get at; so “Utter crap” and “‘venomous post” are not altogether helpful phrases.
        So while I suspect Cincinnatus may be right in his surmise about what might have transpired at Cochran Chapel had Hillary won the election, it might be better to let the Headmaster speak for himself on that question. I, for one, would be interested in his answer.

      • Thank you all for your comments. To the question about what would have happened had Secretary Clinton prevailed, I am not sure. It’s a little hard to answer a counter-factual. I think it would have depended on what happened afterwards. Had there been extreme reactions of various kinds, I can imagine convening in the Chapel; had it been a quiet event, I can imagine making another decision. The reason for this convening was my feeling, as an educator, that we needed to bring the community together in the aftermath of this election, especially given some of the rhetoric involved. I appreciate that others may criticize this decision, but I stand by it.

        John Palfrey

  7. I just forwarded your words to my 8th fade daughter. She decided to explore Andover after reading a student’s comment that PA was a place where it was cool to be smart. Quite involved in issues of social justice, she will be even happier to be applying after reading this. Thank you.

  8. John, if when you say “intolerant” you just mean “conservative” or “republican,” you should use those words, since it is clear you are comfortable labeling half our nation as intolerant based solely on their votes. Andover, like nearly every other institution of higher learning in this country, is absolutely intolerant–of conservative and republican ideals. How many conservative speakers have you featured in all school meetings this year? How many conservative teachers do you have on the faculty? It is telling that despite our many esteemed republican alumni, the only civil servant you mention by name is a democrat.

    While at Andover, I actually had the gall to offer some conservative viewpoints in classrooms when I felt my teachers overstepped the line between education and indoctrination, and was routinely mocked, alienated and graded down for it. I hope you are doing something to ensure that the current teachers of PA are educating in an unbiased, apolitical manner today and onwards.

    James Poss, PA 2010

    • I feel that I should add that a professor actually laughed at the girl next to me, and at myself, for being pro-life in the middle of a French 600 class. I have no idea how that related to the material at hand, namely Race Relations in the Antilles, but it was worrying to say the least. There are teachers who really took the time to understand all the viewpoints of their students, and to be honest I wish they were given a plaque or something, but they were a rarity.

    • Hi James: Thank you for this note. I am sorry to hear that you received such negative reactions to your viewpoints at Andover; it’s not acceptable, in my view, and something that so many schools, including ours, still have a ways to go on. As I believe current and recent students and faculty will report, this is something in which I deeply believe — and I don’t think it is something that we do as well as we should.

      To your essential question: do I mean “conservative” when I say “intolerant”? The answer is absolutely not. There are conservative students and adults in our community, and in our country, who are exceptionally tolerant and empathetic toward others. I used the words that I meant, and about which I feel very strongly. We can and should and ought to welcome and support students who come from a broad range of political viewpoints at Andover (and at all schools, in my opinion). And yes, as noted in a comment above, I should have referenced by name someone like Cong. Poliquin (R-ME) who was also re-elected this week, of whom we are proud, to underscore this point about balance — mea culpa on that front.

      John Palfrey

  9. Pingback: All School Meeting: Post-Election, November 9, 2016 | Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

  10. Let’s not beat around the bush, students across the country are having a tantrum because they believe Donald Trump is an intolerant monster. I assume Andover students exhibited the same spasm of panic as they have been told for years that one party is good and the other, not merely wrong, but evil. They have also lived almost exclusively through the Obama years which have amplified those biases and made a regular practice of shouting down opponents as racist, homophobic, islamaphobic, fill on the blank phobic and burdened with white privilege. I imagine that through the eyes of a teenager the world before Obama was dark and sinister. Clearly, given the horrified reactions to this election no one has been pressing alternative or unpopular views on these students and they are unable to respond other than emotionally. I find it absurd to respond to this fragility with a lecture designed to soften the blow. It is a near certainty, despite Mr. Palfrey’s reluctance to engage a counterfactual, that the blow to be softened and the intolerance to be met with intolerance was Mr. Trump’s. I would suggest that instead of fluffing the fainting couch it would be more productive to encourage your students to foster true tolerance by engaging with their philosophical opposites. Instead, the Academy fosters further intellectual intolerance by contributing to the notion that the opinions of 60 some odd million fellow Americans can be dismissed as intolerant and their views not confronted or respected.

  11. Yet another rejection of a candidate who got a plurality of votes. In any other country Clinton would be the winner. USA needs to become a Democracy (with a capital D) by eliminating the Electoral College completely and establishing a one-person one-vote system. Perhaps the current interest in Alexander Hamilton could spark renewed efforts in this direction.

  12. Yet another rejection of a candidate who got a plurality of votes. In any other country Clinton would be the winner. USA needs to become a Democracy (with a capital D) by eliminating the Electoral College completely and establishing a one-person one-vote system. Perhaps the current interest in Alexander Hamilton could spark renewed efforts in this direction.

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  14. I agree with everything you said. What I would love to see is how we can get tactical on our goals of inspiring real love and familial bonds amongst those from different quarters. I want to go beyond the goal of tolerating each other because frankly, that’s too low of a bar. How can we love each other? My proposal: Maybe you consider revamping the “English” curriculum for a “Communications” curriculum.

    Why? The result you would like to achieve—an America that understands the value of diversity—will much more feasible if we focus on getting that purposeless class to have a well-defined goal of developing a student’s story and communicating that story effectivley. Donald Trump beat Hillary by communicating a simple, sticky message that reached the hearts of an electorate while his opponent came off as aloof, uncaring and uninspiring. She was more bland than a Mirliton—so much so that the Democrat-part of the electorate stayed in. Let me elaborate on how this different approach may actually make a difference while at the same time getting students to appreciate “Literature” more than the current curriculum does.

    To begin with, let’s be pedantic about the name. English classes are not about teaching English. They are about getting us to understand the nuance in Literature. They are clearly mis-titled. I learned Chinese in my Chinese classes but I did not learn English in my English classes.

    Because the focus was on understanding Literature, I did not learn how to communicate in my English classes nor did I see a burning need for it. It was only in college when I took creative writing that I began to see the pleasure of putting my story out there. For the first time, I actually cared a lot about what I wrote. This was a completely different approach to most of what I was doing in so-called “English.” Every word, every phrase, every sentence needed to be nitpicked because of I was actually concerned about whether what I wanted to express was coming across.

    My contention is that you would understand literature more if you read books in the context of building up our ability for self-expression instead of reading for analysis’s sake. We needed to read so we could test different methods of written expression. I became laser-focused on understanding sentence structure because by imitating the best of Foster Wallace, Hemingway, and others (many of them lesser known) we were on our path to develop our own voices and our own styles which are so important for transmitting emotion in our written message. Not only was it tremendously interesting and useful, it was way more fun. My ability to define my life was enhanced in proportion how deeply I understood their ability to craft word. BTW, I’m sure that if I had taken Creative Writing at Andover I would have had a similar experience to the one I had in college. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t mandatory for an entire year and we instead spent way too much time complicating things like “Symbolism” which can be taught much more effectively by taking the literature class out for a photo shoot or shuffling furniture around with some interior design.

    Moreover, in terms of establishing human connection, our English classes were often devoid of the real substance of literature: our feelings towards ourselves and others. It was the opinion of several of my English teachers while at Andover that if we taught “English” right we wouldn’t have a need for “Life Issues.” Unfortunately, the mandate that we should focus on literary structure prevented us from really going deep and sharing real honest feelings that would come across when we shared our story. Because we didn’t do that, we could not learn to listen to what others really felt. More importantly, those of us who like me don’t have a story palatable to the New England Dogamtic may have shared those unsavory details about our origins. Coming together with some skillful moderation by our professors, that which once divided us would separate us no longer because at the end of the day all we want is recognition for our struggles—all of which follow very similar patterns—whether we poop in latrines or have black maids that feed us with silver spoons. It is perhaps sad that in this day and age I have experiences that are more similar to the one’s a slave-keeper like Thomas Jefferson had in 1804 than the ones a washing machine owning family might have in nearby Lawrence. In my house in the Dominican Republic there are maids that are paid what some might call a pittance. Still, at the end of the day this is part of who I am and I need to learn how to be proud about myself and my origins. The way to do that is by telling my story in such a way that my struggles are like your struggles and do so it in such a way that you can feel it. I must of course move on to my better angels—but only after I have made peace with those bad ones. I’m sure I’m not the only one who went through that while at PA and I’m damm well sure that having come clean with that there would have made my classmates and I much better people.

    This stuff isn’t easy. This stuff isn’t simple. But I’m pretty sure that there a say to say “Stronger Together” and have everyone understand that you mean what you say and that you say what you mean. They must believe it when we day it like you and I do. Hillary could not and did not do that. Doing better than her is our task. Let’s get moving.

    As extra credit, I suggest taking a few things from this video:

    • Hi Gustavo! Great comment! I am Carolyn Dolgenos, and I remember you from our European History class. I think this is a marvellous piece you wrote. Hope you are doing well and good luck to you and your family in all you do for 2017. Carolyn

  15. There’s nothing more certain than the hypocrisy of politicians. Let me just say, this is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime. This is something you’ve heard me say time and again.

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  18. very interesting post
    I just forwarded your words to my 8th fade daughter. She decided to explore Andover after reading a student’s comment that PA was a place where it was cool to be smart. Quite involved in issues of social justice, she will be even happier to be applying after reading this. Thank you.

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