Good evening and welcome!
I want to offer a very special welcome to our guest speaker this evening, Roeper Alum Curtis Scott from the class of 1971. In a year when we reflect on our origins and our history it is wonderful to welcome Curtis home. I know you will appreciate his story as he provides us with insight and understanding into how the Domes became the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Domes. His is a story of student life on the Bloomfield Hills campus – our only campus at the time – during the height of the Vietnam War and just after Dr. King’s death.
I had the privilege of giving Curtis a tour last Friday and watching an alum’s eyes open wide as he returned to our campus for the first time since 1975. In a year of reflection we are also reminded that our school is always moving forward. As Curtis shared, the engagement of students and teachers, and the values of our school remain familiar and strong, but the campus evolves, we move forward into that “unknown future” that George and Annemarie so eloquently described in our philosophy.
Tonight is certainly about reflection and how this celebration came to be, but it is also about the future, the future of our school, the future of our community, the future of our country, and the future of our world – it is about hope and vigilance; it is about discernment and action; it is about doing what is difficult when it would be easier to be a bystander.
For 75 years, The Roeper School has shared with our students a philosophy of mutual respect, a philosophy of helping children to develop their voices and advocate for themselves; a philosophy of understanding the interdependent nature of the human experience.
This philosophy has its origins in an earlier time of bigotry and scapegoating. The story of the Roeper family is a powerful example of what it means to respond to prejudice and hatred. Denied the protection of law and civil decency because of their identity, the Roeper family was forced to flee for their lives; leave the only home they had ever known, and escape their oppressors as religious refugees. This School is a physical manifestation of the philosophy that evolved from that experience – it is an idea that says: we will instill in our children, and in our broader community, the ethical values and moral convictions necessary to never let such hatred go unchallenged, to never let such tyranny happen again.
Whether it is standing up to Nazi oppression, marching in the name Civil Rights, or standing up to bullying, bigotry, and intolerance – Dr. King’s teachings, like the philosophy of George and Annemarie Roeper, are more essential for our world today than ever before.
In his Farewell Address, President Obama reminded us what we feel and know – that as a country we are politically polarized, ideologically segmented, and segregated by the media we follow; in such a climate how are we to find the path that will bring us together, and help us to realize our interdependence? How do we overcome the insidious intolerance and fear that is used to build literal and metaphorical walls between us? How do we help engage our fellow citizens in core democratic ideals, and at the same time remember that at the heart of leadership lives a respect for individual differences, a commitment to ethical decision making, and a social imperative to engage with civility?
Today more than ever before, we must with clear eyes, and deliberate action, embrace both the message and the practices of Dr. King. Our civil rights, our hard fought steps toward social justice, even the tenets of the Roeper Philosophy do not just exist as a birth right or a right of enrollment. Each of us must engage in the struggle to move ourselves and our country to that “more perfect union.” Each of us has a responsibility to step beyond the role of bystander and to step past the comfort of indifference. As George Roeper reminded us, it is not enough to read the news and merely discuss world events.
George said: “When I was at school as a student, we talked about the new things, the coming things, and sat in armchairs discussing how to reform the world, how to fight Hitler and the Nazis, but we did not do anything about it. We did not go out in the street and demonstrate for what we believed in; we did not go out and parade, arguing against dictatorships. We did not go out to the slums to help the poor; we did not help to teach the deprived. We only talked about it…There is a vast difference between talking about it and doing something about it. It is easy to sit comfortably in the armchair and discuss these questions but it takes courage to initiate action, to show leadership and make people listen to you.” (GAR in graduation speech at Windsor Mountain School, 1968)
Tonight’s event is an example of student engagement; a deliberate effort to make sure that we remember our history, honor our past – but most importantly – come together as a community to engage in discussion about how we move forward, how we as a community, as Dr. King said, will move, “the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” remembering that the arc does not move without our efforts, that we have an obligation to engage.
We inherited an amazing philosophy from our founders; we have inspirational heroes from the civil rights era who sacrificed greatly to bend the arc toward justice. What will we do?
Anniversary celebrations naturally lead us to be nostalgic and reflective, they remind us of what has been and where we came from, but that is only a beginning. As MacArthur Fellow, social justice leader, and Roeper Gala Keynote Speaker Bryan Stevenson reminds us, “We all have a responsibility to create a just society.”
And so tonight my friends, my message to you this evening is simple:
Let us embrace the understanding that justice is not a given, and that each generation must be active, and engaged in securing the civil rights and human rights that Dr. King and the Roeper family did in their time.
Roeperians, this is our time – Forward!