President Rose, Awa Diaw, my beloved family, friends and honored guests.
A few days ago I was in London visiting with Miss Wendla Kernig. Miss Kernig, now 91 years old, was the head teacher at Brunswick Park, a progressive primary school in south London, where I was initially trained as a teacher after graduating from Bowdoin.
At Brunswick Park teachers put into practice the two Latin roots of the word, “education”: — educare and educere.
Educere means to draw forth, educare means to train. At Brunswick Park, children were excited to come to school because they weren’t just trained. Every day, teachers asked, “Who is this child? What is she about? Where is his compass needle pointing?” What I learned at Brunswick Park is that our role as educators is, above all, to draw forth and cultivate the spirit, the fire, the quality that makes each child unique, the quality, when cultivated, that will result in each child making his or her individual contribution to the greater good.
While I learned how to teach at Brunswick Park, I learned how to live from my two roommates at Bowdoin. The late Virgil Howard Logan, Jr., and Robert Emmel Ives. Bobby and Virgil, lifelong friends, opened up worlds for me, of music, and poetry, and history, and the life of the spirit. From them I learned about love and true giving and service.
I’ve heard it said, by a teacher in India I greatly respect, “You are either living in an ‘I’ world or a ‘We’ world.” Bobby and Virgil and Miss Kernig and the teachers of Brunswick Park were all living in and contributing to a “We” world, a world of service. As I look back, over my last 54 years, I can see myself as a tree that has taken many years to grow tall and strong and blossom forth with fruit that nourishes others as they grow.
We are a crossroads of life on this planet, standing on the brink of catastrophe, ecologically, socially, politically and spiritually. We are tilting way too far in the direction of an ‘I’ world. To quote the poet WB Yeats:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”WB Yeats
I am thankful to the Alumni Council for naming me as the recipient of this award. While it is an honor and acknowledgement, for me it is more a charge: to renew my conviction with passionate intensity, that education is meant to draw forth the spirit, and to continue working with children and teenagers and adults to be and become, each and all, the light and the love that will make this a much, much brighter world. Because is the spirit—not money, or technology, or competition or demagogic power— it is the spirit that gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
When the spirit is strong, the center will hold.