I write to you in the wake of a joyful celebration for our Class of 2020, an undaunted and spirited cohort that graduated over the weekend and became the newest members of our proud alumni ‘ohana. As they depart from Punahou, I have every confidence that their compassion and conscience will help produce a more just, humane and peaceful world.
At the same time, I am deeply troubled by the news from cities across our country. The killing of Mr. George Floyd, like that of many other African Americans who have died in acts of racist brutality, leaves me angry and full of despair. The actions of those who would exploit legitimate grievances to promote reckless violence, moreover, make the prospects for enduring, progressive change even more remote. Our history books tell us how far our country has come since the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement first challenged our nation to live up to the full meaning of its principles. Yet when African Americans still cannot live in safety in much of the United States, and the impact of COVID-19 starkly illustrates the impact of inequality on communities of color, we clearly recognize how far we still must travel.
At Punahou, I believe that these events speak directly to our core values and mission. The Aims of a Punahou Education define our aspirations for our students. In addition to developing critical academic abilities, we seek to promote “personal and social responsibility by developing empathy and compassion, by embracing diversity at all levels, while cultivating moral reasoning that leads to moral action, personal leadership, and engaged citizenship.” As our mission statement emphasizes, we aim to “develop moral and spiritual values consistent with the Christian principles on which Punahou was founded, affirming the worth and dignity of each individual.”
A Punahou education, in this respect, must be a transformative one. Now more than ever, our School can teach students to challenge the structures that perpetuate injustice and to act responsibly for the good of all. In contrast to those who would promote violence, we can deliver an education that builds creativity, social entrepreneurship, and the crucial ability to engage in rational, productive debate across the political spectrum. As we enroll students from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, we can provide access to a Punahou education for families who would otherwise not have it, graduating many students who will be the first in their families to attend college. At this moment in American history, in our classrooms, playgrounds, athletic fields, and Chapel, we must raise children who know that racism can never be tolerated, and who are ready to defend the worth and dignity of all.
These critical issues, and so many others like them, will be the charge of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group – one of Punahou’s highest priority areas and an integral part of our ongoing Strategic Planning process. This group of thoughtful, action-minded faculty and staff from across our campus will build upon the important diversity work that has been done in recent years and chart the way forward for our School in the months and years ahead.
I also want to take this opportunity to share some helpful resources on our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion webpage. Here, you will find articles that discuss the historical underpinning of today’s unrest, recommendations about how to talk with children about current events, reading lists for adults and children, and more.
Finally, as the Class of 2020 goes out into a divided world, I am confident that they will be part of the solution. Using the powerful tools of the law, their skills to communicate, their ability to listen, and their capacity for empathy, I know that they will make a difference. I also hope that each of us, as members of the Punahou ‘ohana, will find ways to use what we have learned to support those in need and improve the human condition in our own communities.
Michael E. Latham, Ph.D. ‘86
President, Punahou School
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