[These are my prepared remarks for the introduction to our All School Meeting on the topic of Youth From Every Quarter for Fall, 2016. I did not give these remarks verbatim in the interest of time, but delivered most of them as written.]
Youth From Every Quarter, October 5, 2016
Good morning, Andover. I am glad to see you all gathered today. To see all your smiling faces is always a heartwarming sight from up here.
We continue in our sequence of All School Meetings that encourage us to interrogate our founding values as a school. Today’s ASM centers on Youth from Every Quarter. We are fortunate to have a distinguished alumnus from the class of 1996, Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, to be with us as our speaker. Dr. Ehrenfeld, welcome back!
Before I turn the proceedings over to our fabulous Dean of CAMD, Ms. Springer, I thought I would share what I believe Youth from Every Quarter means today, to me. It is worthy of much more time than I have for this introduction, so I will reduce my thoughts to two essential elements: that Youth from Every Quarter is a changing, living idea; and that it is an active, not a passive, idea.
First, I believe that Youth from Every Quarter is a changing, living, idea. I mean that it is not static in its meaning. Yes, the words are still the same; it is, in that sense, a stable statement that can be found in our school’s Constitution. At its core, it was right on: it stated that this Academy, I quote:
“shall be ever equally open to Youth, of requisite qualifications, from every quarter.”
Youth from every quarter meant one thing in 1778 and it means something very different today. Back then, it was a much narrower conception of the “youth” who would be educated here. (It turns out the Constitution also said that all your teachers needed to belong to a particular strand of Christianity – that we should all be strict Calvinists – and I don’t think today we have any strict Calvinists on the faculty. If you meet one, please let me know.)
Today, it means that we strive for true equity and true inclusion. It means that our admissions office not only doesn’t mind if someone comes from a certain background; it means, in fact, that our admissions office seeks students out from different backgrounds. It means that we don’t merely tolerate diversity on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, faith, geography, and types of ability – it means that we seek it out. Plainly, the founders of this Academy were on the right track in 1778, but they didn’t get it exactly right the first time. It said one thing, and it meant another.
The same can be said for another famous document from that same time: our Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, which said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, …” These are beautiful words, and they have resonated for hundreds of years. But they did not mean then what they mean today. And that change is a very good thing.
That brings me to the second point: Youth from Every Quarter is not a passive idea; it is an active one. It is not enough merely to attend Andover or to teach at Andover – to be a member of a place that seeks equity and inclusion. It is an active task – an essential task for every one of us as community members, to make this a place that is welcoming, supportive, nurturing, and challenging in equal measure for all our students.
What do I mean by that? I believe it means actively finding ways to connect with people different from you. It means refraining from using language that mocks another person on the basis of their identity or where their family came from – and apologizing if you mess that part up. It means recognizing hateful and harmful speech for what it is, and not hiding behind political smokescreens. It means calling people in to a discussion about diversity, not calling people out.
And it is active because it calls upon you to engage in critical thinking. It calls upon you to recognize injustices in the past and the present and to work to make your community stronger, fairer – more equitable and more inclusive. That is not work just for your teachers; that is work for every student to engage in – equally – to make this community stronger than it is today. I know that some of you at Andover do not feel equally treated and fully included, even today, and we all need to keep working at that.
One thing that is on my mind, in this mode of critical thinking: Why, today, does hateful speech – speech that demeans and divides people – in political discourse seem to attract votes? We can and should call out the speech that is contrary to our school’s founding values, of non sibi, of knowledge and goodness, of youth from every quarter.
But I also want to know: what is going on here in this country? How is it that language that is hateful toward some people — language which puts some people above other people – seems to some to be acceptable, and is working politically in some places? This is not the first election in which hateful speech has animated the discourse – but why today, and why to such a degree? I know I am not alone in wondering and worrying about this problem.
I think the answer has to do with that first point – the idea of change. I think a big part of what is going on, with Youth from Every Quarter, is that we are headed toward a country, and a world, that is more complex and more diverse than ever before. Let me leave you with one fact: In the 1950, this country was 90% white and 10% comprised of people of color. This country will no longer have a white majority by 2042 – that is 25 years from now. I take this change to be good and important – and also a major challenge for us to get Youth from Every Quarter right.
May this Academy, in its founding words, be: ever equally open in terms of who can come here – and ever equally open in our minds, especially to the changes of what Youth from Every Quarter actually means.
It is my pleasure to turn the program over to Ms. LaShawn Springer.