Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you – and to join with Head of School [Barbara] Riley; Assistant Head of School [John] Roberts; Mr. [David] Newton and his fellow trustees; this distinguished group of faculty and students; and so many proud parents, grandparents, and family members – as we look forward to this remarkable institution’s 351st academic year.
I want to thank each of you – especially my good friend, Raquel [Santiago Martinez], and her daughter, Paula – a very proud member of this year’s 9th-grade class – for welcoming me to your beautiful campus and including me in today’s ceremony.
From your teachers, from the Hopkins alums I’ve been fortunate to work alongside – including my former colleague and good friend, Mark Lynch, who I’m glad is here with us today – and, of course, from watching your talents on You Tube, I’ve had the chance to learn quite a bit about what it means to be a Hopkins student.
I know that you are gifted musicians, choreographers, athletes – and rappers; and that you are among the brightest young people in this state, and in this country. You are standouts in the classroom and on the stage, in studios and stadiums, on playing fields and dance floors, and in organizations and communities across New Haven. You are compassionate – and notoriously generous with your time and energy. And you are dedicated – to each other; to your shared success; and, in your many pursuits, to always giving your best – especially if you happen to be competing against Hamden Hall.
I also know that you are deeply committed to public service, and that, each year, Hopkins students make meaningful, transformative contributions – in this city and far beyond.
I’m told that, last year, Hopkins students raised more than $75,000 for the Connecticut Food Bank – and were, once again, the largest single contributor to this critical organization. You also tutored at local elementary schools; sent supplies to U.S. troops in Iraq; partnered with organizations ranging from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to the Girl Scouts; and even helped with development projects in Nicaragua. All this – while also taking 46 Advanced Placement or honors courses; putting on one-act plays; performing in a symphony orchestra; singing in a cappella groups; and defending state championships in everything from baseball, to swimming and diving, to Science Olympiad.
And even though this new school year has just begun, I know that you’re already setting goals to contribute – and to achieve – even more in the months ahead.
As you look toward this future, I hope that you will also take time to reflect on the remarkable history that lies – quite literally – at your feet, as you walk the same grounds where so many have gathered to discuss and debate the critical issues of the day; to acquire the tools and training to succeed; and to cultivate the abilities – and the unique spirit – that has driven countless Hopkins graduates to strengthen the values we hold most dear, and to improve the lives of others.
As members of the Hopkins community, you are heirs to an extraordinary tradition – of excellence, action, and service – that stretches back more than a hundred years before the birth of this nation.
As most of you know – and as the 7th-graders here soon will learn – this school welcomed its first class of students in 1660, during a time of instability and uncertainty – a time when America was little more than a grand and improbable idea.
In many ways, this institution was born of the same dream that drove the European continent’s earliest immigrants – including Edward Hopkins himself – to strike out across a vast ocean in search of a new life.
Though far too many came to this land –beginning in 1619, in chains; so many others – from Puritans and pilgrims, to colonial settlers and speculators – were driven by a yearning for liberty and opportunity; by a belief that something better waited just across the horizon; and by a desire to build a new future for themselves and their children – far from the grasp of tyrants and oppressors – in a New World.
These are the same aspirations that, throughout our history, have caused so many to set their sights on our shores – from those who embarked from England, on this exact date – September 16th – in 1620, on a crowded ship called the Mayflower – to the more than 1,500 individuals from across the globe who, today, will proudly take the oath of American citizenship.
Over the years, those who have forged, fought for, and pledged allegiance to the America we know today have arrived here for the same reason. Each of them – like so many of your own families, and like my own father and grandparents – set out for America’s shores not only to build better lives for themselves, but to ensure that their children and grandchildren would have greater opportunities than they did – to learn, to grow, and to realize their potential.
That is the dream that Edward Hopkins brought to the New Haven colony when he arrived here, less than twenty years after that fateful Mayflower voyage. It’s the dream he would pursue over the course of his seven terms as Governor of the Connecticut Colony. It’s the dream that, after his death, would finally be realized in the creation of this school – dedicated, in his own words, to instilling “a lifelong love of learning” in order to prepare “hopeful youths for the public service of the country in future times.”
This founding vision – and the school it inspired – has enabled so many Hopkins graduates to soar to great heights. This school’s alumni include some of our nation’s most distinguished academic leaders, artists, authors, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and public servants; leaders who helped to establish the very framework of this country, and have served as its Governors and Congressional Representatives, judges and Supreme Court Justices, and – in the case of Edwards Pierrepont, a member of the class of 1833 – as our nation’s 33rd Attorney General.
I know that, for some of you, the thought of living up to these examples may feel overwhelming – if not impossible. But in this new school year – and throughout your lives – this legacy is yours to carry on, and to carry forward.
I realize that this may sound like a tremendous obligation. But the fact that you are here today – sitting among the classmates who will push and encourage you; and surrounded by teachers, parents, and friends who are eager to support you – proves that each of you already has what it takes to meet the challenges ahead, and to accept the responsibilities that all Hopkins graduates are called to fulfill.
And let’s be honest: if you have what it takes to win over the Hopkins Admissions Committee, you have what it takes to follow in the footsteps, and build on the achievements, of those who arrived on this campus before you, who also waved the Hopkins flag, and who – like you – proudly cautioned their opponents to “Fear the Goat.”
That’s why today’s convocation is more than an occasion to reflect on this past and to celebrate this new beginning – it is also an opportunity to plan for the future that you hope to see and, one day, will create.
What will you do? How will you honor the legacy of those who came before? What will you imagine that your parents’ generation could not? How will you make history? How will you make a difference?
The answers are yours to discover. And, as someone who’s been asking these questions a long time, I can assure you that the path forward will not always be obvious. There’s no way of predicting the obstacles that you will face – or the possibilities that lie ahead. Will your children grow up in a world without war? One that is no longer plagued by cancer – or by crime, violence, and terrorism? Will they be raised in a country where the promise of equal justice and opportunity – and the aspirations enshrined in our Constitution and our founding documents– are a reality for all of our citizens? A nation that operates with the same level of respect and compassion that you are expected to exhibit every day in the halls of Hopkins?
If such progress sounds impossible, we need only remember that there was a time in America when it seemed unthinkable that slavery would not exist, when the thought of women voting was simply unimaginable, when the idea that we might walk on the Moon, or map the human genome, or elect an African American President of the United States seemed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
You must not forget this history – especially when you are confronted by cynicism and doubt. Not only do you have the power to help bring about the progress you seek, you also have the obligation – first, to prepare for the journey ahead; and then, to conceive of a better world, to blaze a trail forward, and to make what had always seemed impossible a reality.
Yes, I know that’s a lot of pressure. But, as I look out at this sea of bright young faces, I am confident that you will heed the lessons of history – and honor the legacy you’ve inherited – to answer the call of destiny. That is your solemn duty. It is also your breathtaking opportunity.
As the old saying goes, to whom much is given, much is required. And each one of you has been provided with a Hopkins education – and the extraordinary experiences, and responsibilities, that come with it.
Always remember that – with confidence in yourselves, and with fidelity to this school’s defining principles – your greatest aspirations are not beyond your capabilities. And the achievement of your goals is not beyond your lifetimes.
This morning, as we celebrate all that lies ahead, I am eager to see where each of you will lead our nation – and our world. As you move forward in your studies, and on to colleges and careers, and to even greater opportunities to serve, to learn, to thrive, and to create the progress you hope to see – know that we have faith in you. We are immensely proud of you. And your nation is counting on each and every one of you.
Dream of the world as you would like it to be – and then use your Hopkins training to bring that dream to life. All of this is possible. All of this is within your grasp. With faith and humility – and with confidence in yourselves – you must step forward, you must aim high, and you must make this new world your own.
Congratulations on both the start of a new year – and the beginning of what will surely be an unforgettable chapter in your lives. Good luck and Godspeed.