"Good morning and welcome to Hackley!" The students and teachers filling the Hackley Performing Arts Center to capacity--including the entire Hackley Middle School as well as our Round Square visitors from around the Americas and the world, returned a hearty "Good Morning!" as Michael Wirtz officially launched the Young Round Square Conference dedicated to the theme "Exploring Democracy in the Big Apple." Read on for his remarks....
Good morning and welcome to Hackley! My name is Michael Wirtz and I am Hackley’s head of school. On behalf of Hackley’s students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and trustees, I extend a warm welcome to our conference delegates and am excited that you are with us on the Hilltop for the Round Square Regional Conference of the Americas. In addition to 14 Hackley Middle School students participating in the conference, we are pleased to be joined by 72 visiting students accompanied by 32 chaperones, drawing from 27 different schools in Argentina, Bermuda, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Peru, and the United States. It is our school’s honor to have you here with us for the next several days unpacking the conference’s theme, “Exploring Democracy in the Big Apple.”
This conference provides each of you the chance to adventure in and learn about one of the world’s great cities, New York, and to understand more deeply the theme of democracy through the interplay of the city’s rich history and its current role on the national and international stage. As an early capital of the United States and current home to the United Nations, New York has played – and continues to play – a central role in the administration of democratic principles.
For generations, New York has held strong symbolism in the American story. We can all conjure images of the strengthening of a nation as immigrants passed through Ellis Island and under the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty; the growth of global financial and economic markets centered on Wall Street; the vibrancy and importance of culture and art as represented by Broadway and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to name a few. New York’s story is intertwined with the theme of democracy, providing all of you many different avenues for conversation and reflection.
For our guests, you might wonder why Hackley would host a Round Square Conference and why we chose the theme of democracy. In answer to the first question, you need look no further than a saying inscribed over one of the doors leading in from the Inner Quad: “Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend.”
Although the school is unclear about the origin of this motto, we are resolute in our belief in its importance. We pride ourselves on the strong personal connections that define Hackley and that are represented in these words. Students and adults build relationships here that are defined by support, joy, and meaning, and that last a lifetime. Enriched by over 100 new students and adults on the Hilltop this week, our community has the chance to extend the hand of friendship to different corners of the world. We are eager to be your friends and we are hopeful that you all will find new friends.
Hackley’s commitment to Round Square and a global education runs deeper than this motto, however. If you look at the mission statement, you will see that the essence of this work is captured in the final phrase, which challenges us to “learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds in our community and the world.” Students, parents, faculty, and staff value the diversity of identities present in the school on a daily basis and the ways in which these enrich and inform our work.
Through your presence and engagement here at this conference, each of you is helping Hackley better live our mission. Together, we will gather, explore, discuss, and reflect as a truly global learning community.
In addition to and through the fellowship that will develop this week, the conference program affords you the opportunity to engage with the theme of democracy, a concept that is both central to Round Square and to countries around the world. At the school level, democracy is integral to all of our institutions as one of the six Round Square pillars. Our schools challenge us to participate in and take responsibility for decisions, to use our voices, and to follow up words with actions.
Perhaps greater than these responsibilities, however, lies our central challenge and the ideal that links to one another, our fellow citizen. Democracy demands that we are informed, that we participate, and that we remain engaged. And while we must employ our hands to action, a highly functioning democracy demands that we use something far more important: our ears and our minds.
As you encounter different perspectives and experiences during this conference, take a moment to consider their origin and their importance to the speaker. Open yourself to the possibility of new ideas and insights. We must listen closely and with empathy, working to see the world from a different perspective, and actively building understanding across areas of disagreement. These are the qualities required for the success of healthy debate, and ultimately progress, in a democratic institution. By developing and strengthening these skills and habits of mind here this week, you will leave a little better suited to face and solve challenges that come your way, whether in your personal life, in your school, or as a citizen of your home country and of our global society.
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to offer my heartfelt appreciation to the dedicated faculty that worked tirelessly for over a year to bring this conference to life. Brad Walters, Assistant Director of the Middle School, is the logistical genius behind the scenes. He has lived and breathed Round Square for many, many months and will probably have the best night of sleep of his life at some point late next week.
Bringing great energy, ideas, and capable hands, open minds, and keen ears to the work were Adrianne Pierce, Glenn Hasslinger, Samantha He, Sara Budde, Steve Bileca, Cyndy Jean, and Margaret Randazzo. We are also grateful to ENVOYS and Felipe Correa for their partnership.
On behalf of the entire Hackley community, I want to once again welcome you to the Hilltop and thank you for being here. Enjoy the friendship and learning that will mark this week!