Convocation Remarks by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann ’63, President of the Board of Trustees

Posted September 4, 2008


Good morning and welcome to a new academic year at Concord Academy. We are delighted to have a bumper crop of new faces joining the many people who are returning. This year, we have seven new trustees, fifteen new faculty and staff, and 112 new students. Welcome to all of you. And a special welcome as well to our emeritae/i teachers, all of whom are here, I gather.

As I thought about what I might say this morning, it occurred to me that this is a very important election year. The first year I came to CA was another very important election year. It was 1960, the year John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon.

Back in those olden days, Concord was a smaller school, an all-girls school, and a much more conservative place than it is today. Most students at CA then were Republicans, liberal Republicans, a breed that is much more rare today. Unlike most of our friends and classmates, my roommate and I were Democrats and fierce supporters of JFK. I am going to give David Rost hiccups by admitting this, but my roommate and I found an old sheet, wrote "JFK" in big red letters, climbed out of the window of Bradford House—we lived on the first floor—and hung the sheet in the Chapel before a Monday morning chapel service. We subsequently spent a fair amount of time sitting in Mrs. Hall’s office (she was head of school then) discussing other ways we might demonstrate support for our candidate.

I tell you this not to recommend that you climb out of windows or hang sheets in the Chapel endorsing either Barack Obama or John McCain, but rather to remind you that along with all else you will do this year—study hard, play on successful sports teams, practice a musical instrument, or participate in a dance performance—I hope you will take some time to think about politics. It matters greatly who becomes president of the United States and also who controls the U.S. Congress. It also matters greatly that people like all of you, who are now students at CA, think carefully about who you favor and why you prefer them to other candidates. What do you want for this country? How do you think we can have more equal access to healthcare? Better schools? Less hostile relationships with Russia, China, and Pakistan?

Now is the time in your lives when you need to learn to think for yourselves about what values you believe in and why you believe in those values. It is no longer good enough, as you all know, simply to follow the lead of your parents or that of your classmates. You may end up agreeing with them, but you need to think for yourselves and to make your own political choices. And to do that well, you need to be well informed. I will not date myself by recommending that you read the New York Times or the Boston Globe, though I do not think that would be a bad idea; but I do hope you will watch Jon Stewart every day or turn to some other reliable news source.

Some Concord Academy alums have been deeply involved in the current election, probably more of them than I am aware. My colleague on the board of trustees, Sandra Willett Jackson, was a very strong supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She raised a lot of money and helped organize Wellesley alumnae and others in support of Hillary’s candidacy. Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, played a pivotal role in getting Barack Obama elected. She endorsed him at a critical moment; convinced her uncle Ted to endorse him at the same time; helped vet the vice presidential candidates; spoke at the convention; and is campaigning hard to get Barack Obama elected. In some way or other, I hope all of you will also get involved, if not in this election, in ones that will occur in subsequent years. This country needs an intelligent, well-educated, deeply engaged electorate. It needs people like all of you.

Of course, the election is not the only thing that will make this year a special one at CA. As you know, we are in the midst of a search for a new head of school. No one will be able to fill Jake Dresden’s shoes, but since he insists on stepping down after a long and very successful term at CA, we will be appointing his successor. We are also in the midst of a routine re-accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and will host a team of people in October, who will be talking with faculty and staff and meeting some students. We are planning for our new property at Arena Farms and we, on the board, are doing what we do all the time—raising money to support this wonderful institution.

The most important thing that will go on this year, however, is a lot of excellent teaching and learning. Those of us who are trustees of CA are keenly aware of the fact that we have bright, interesting, diverse, and carefully selected students and a faculty that cannot be topped by any other faculty anywhere in the country. We also know that the CA staff members, who support our students and faculty, in our offices, kitchens, and facilities shops are unusually competent, hard working, and friendly. The board only meets three times a year, but most of us work for CA much more often than that, and we are tremendously proud and grateful to be associated with such a fine institution.

Thank you all for what you do. Welcome or welcome back to this very special school. I hope this will be the best year yet at Concord Academy.

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