I am glad to see you all back here, safe and sound, in Cochran Chapel so that we can look ahead, look to the kind of community that we want to build. We come together today to celebrate both community and diversity, the pillars of what sets Phillips Academy apart – a school proudly built of youth and faculty from every quarter, a student body that comes from dozens of countries and nearly every state in America, regardless of anyone’s ability to pay tuition. I am deeply grateful to our colleagues in CAMD, especially Linda Carter Griffith, and all those student moderators and organizers, for their leadership and hard work to make today possible.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of the things that Andover does extremely well. I love the idea that we don’t take the day “off” — though we don’t hold regular classes and practices — but we rather take the day “on,” to explore what Dr. King’s legacy means to us today in this community and more broadly. We are especially fortunate to have Maria Hinojosa — Emmy-award-winning NPR journalist — here with us as our keynote speaker this morning, to lead us and to help us think about the importance of voice and narrative.
Often, when we at Andover talk about diversity and when we celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy, we talk about our commitment, enshrined in the school’s constitution of 1778, to educate “Youth from Every Quarter.” That term has long been our guide, and is alive and well. We are deep into this year’s admissions season, as our good friends and colleagues on Team Shuman and faculty readers are sifting through another extraordinary group of applicants, those who wish to be a part of Andover’s future. This weekend, we were blessed with 1,200 guests — young people and their families from every background who are considering joining our community — for the Day at Andover.
Today, though, I wanted to emphasize another of our founding phrases – the idea of Knowledge with Goodness. You will recall that our Constitution tells us that Knowledge without Goodness is dangerous. As the Phillips Academy Constitution says, when Goodness and Knowledge are united, they “form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” I take this phrase to mean that it is not enough for us merely to teach you the tools that you will need to thrive in a 21st century. Surely we need to teach these things – surely you ought to master core academic disciplines. You need to learn critical thinking, how to work in teams, and how to be creative. But you must also learn to combine this knowledge with goodness.
What, you might ask, does Knowledge with Goodness have to do with Martin Luther King Day, or with community and diversity? To my mind, it has everything to do with this day of celebration and reflection. Today, we ask ourselves what it means to be an individual in a community. It has to do with how we act at Andover and who we want to be. It has everything to do with character.
What does it mean to have Goodness along with all this Knowledge that you are acquiring here at Andover? Goodness is a character trait. To me, this goodness is, at its core, about how we relate to one another. It is how we use our gifts both for ourselves and for others. We see this goodness, this character, all around us.
In the last week, I found this goodness, this strength of character, in the speech that Meera gave about her homeland, Syria, rocked with war and torn by the geopolitics of our age. I found this goodness in the performances of all those students who created a stunning production of Dido and Aeneas from scratch: the six student instrumentalists; the voices of Fidelio and the soloists, Caroline and Adam and their friends; the graceful movement of the dance team and the Graham and Emily in their starring turns. I found this goodness in the dedication of the performance to a teacher, friend, and faculty spouse whose passing we mourn together. I found this goodness in the way that our fans cheered our boys hockey team to an amazing comeback against St. Sebastian’s – down 4-2 with two minutes left, they tied the game and then won in overtime, their friends pounding on the plexiglass with every dramatic goal, ending at 5-4. Ditto for the cheering and dancing led by Varsity SLAM, leading on the Girls’ Varsity Basketball in their come from behind win on Saturday. I found this goodness in the stacks of the OWHL, where a senior was walking another student through some science homework that was far beyond my own comprehension. I read it again in a senior’s email to me (Samantha) asking me to say “happy birthday” to her roommate (Emilia). Happy birthday, Emilia!
I see this goodness in classrooms that I visit across the campus. To embrace diversity and difference is not to accept lower standards. In our classrooms, we embrace the strength and necessity of difference in our increasingly complex, interconnected world. We see this strength and excellence in page after page of Out of the Blue, the book that tells the story of today’s Andover better than any other text we have.
Most of all, I find this goodness all around us at Andover as I see your smiling faces on the pathways, making your way from class to sports to activities and back to your dorms and homes, making your mark on this school and this community.
Today, at Andover, we refuse to look away from the challenges of living in a diverse community, in a diverse world. No matter who you are, you may feel uncomfortable in talking about diversity. It is a crucial form of knowledge with goodness to be able to express your views about diversity – to tell your own, beautiful story and to struggle with it along with your peers and your teachers.
As you read Out of the Blue, you may find a piece of yourself in a particular essay or poem. You might be the writer who asked why girls are not allowed to swear the same way that boys can. You might be the boy who identified with Hamlet as he struggled with coming out as a gay male. You might be the gentile who goes to a camp for Jewish kids or you might be the Jewish student who asks whether your own community takes enough action these days. You might be the student from a “small, infamous town” who wrote, “People are always surprised when they see how hard I work in all aspects of my life.” You might be the student who explained to all of us what it means to be a student at Andover who comes from an Asian family.
I want to reply to an Out of the Blue author, who wrote an amazingly powerful statement, which also included a question. You wrote: “It’s important to have diversity. 40% students of color. Is that why I’m here? For diversity? To help some rich kids cross ‘ racial barriers’ they created?” My response is both “yes” and “no.” Yes, you are here for diversity, but you are not alone in being here for diversity. We are all here for diversity, whether yours will be the first generation in your family to go to college or whether your family has been attending Andover since it was founded. That’s why we are all here and we all have to grapple with it. As a white male of privilege, I know that I struggle with what my own identity means – especially in this role as Head of School.
The bottom line is that we all come to Andover to live, learn, and work together as an intentionally diverse community – for many of us, the most diverse community we will ever live in. We are not perfect; no one of us is perfect; we are all a work in progress, individually and collectively. As our former Associate Head of School, Rebecca Sykes, wrote in her essay in Out of the Blue, the point is not that we are great at diversity at Andover; it is that “we do not shy away from the hard conversations” about race and other topics that can either divide us or join us together as a community.
I am struck, as I read back through our Constitution, by how well the ideals of this school hang together, 235 years later. There is profound beauty in how these founding principles intersect. We are blessed with ideals that support one another. Non sibi means that we think not just of ourselves – which is inevitable – but of others. Knowledge with Goodness means that we choose to apply our hard-earned knowledge and skills in pursuit of not just our self-interest, but the community interest. Youth from Every Quarter means that we draw strength from the diversity of perspective, race, gender, sexuality, class, and religion in our community. Excellence in academics, athletics, and arts means not the pursuit of a single truth but accomplishment across a vast range of things that you come to master during your time at Andover. Excellence means accomplishment and goodness in a diverse community.
I’ll close today with one of my favorite passages. I urge you, by the way, to read Out of the Blue cover to cover. On p. 211, one person concluded an essay with these words: “Day by day, I think I am doing better and better and I love Andover more and more. I have learned so much from people around me. Andover is a place where people always love you back if you love them. Over time, I felt very much part of the community. I am grateful that I finally blend in and have such great teachers and friends. My heart is full of happiness right now, because I have a lot to treasure. My mom says when people grow up, they do not simply receive more happiness; they learn how to find it. I think I have found my happiness at Andover, and I am looking for more.” I don’t know whose voice that is, but whoever you are, I’m grateful to you. I send you my love for what you wrote.
I wish everyone a wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. day for 2014, here at Andover. Thank you.