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United by a Common Purpose

The prepared remarks of Dean Bridget Long at Orientation 2022

Good morning, everyone! My name is Bridget Long, and I am the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

On behalf of the faculty and staff, I am thrilled to welcome you yet again to HGSE.

Though you have already been part of our community for several months, and most of you have been completing your Foundations on campus the last few weeks, there is still special excitement on this day as we kickoff Orientation Week.  

Around the university, this time marks the full welcoming back of students and faculty, and the excitement is palpable as you make connections with the incredible people who will make this an outstanding year.

Land Acknowledgement 

Before we begin this important event, I’d like to acknowledge that Harvard University is located on the traditional and ancestral land of the Massachusett, the original inhabitants of what is now known as Boston and Cambridge. 

We pay respect to the people of the Massachusett Tribe, past and present, and honor the land itself which remains sacred to the Massachusett People.

The HGSE community spans the globe, and we additionally acknowledge that beyond Cambridge, many of our homes, schools, and places of work are likewise on the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples.

I also recognize the enslaved individuals who helped to build Harvard University and others across this country, understanding the role that they played in creating and funding educational institutions that were not intended to serve them and did not regard the dignity of their humanity.  

Acknowledging our history is an important step in combating the erasure of the essential contributions, sacrifices, and stories of those before us. 
It is a step towards ensuring a culture of awareness, respect, and accountability within our community. 

Introduction of Key Staff

During this week of Orientation, my colleagues and I will introduce you to numerous resources that will help you thrive at HGSE and help you feel comfortable enough to fully engage in all that this place has to offer. As a member of this community for over two decades now, I can attest to the wonderful people you will encounter, get to know, and learn from during your time here.

Joining me on stage are individuals who are committed to your success. They are among the many people here who will support you, and I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge them:

  • Marty West, Academic Dean and Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education
  • Tycie Coppett, Director for Master's Studies
  • Clara Lau, Director for Doctoral Studies
  • Kevin Boehm, Director of Student Affairs

Also on stage are several faculty members, who will give you a taste of the wide variety of transformative work that is taking place at HGSE. 

  • Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell
  • Tim McCarthy
  • Andrew Ho
  • Sarah Dryden-Peterson, and
  • Irvin Scott

Thank you for being a part of the welcome ceremony today.

Who You Are

I’d like to begin by introducing you to one another. Today, we are welcoming 752 entering students: 613 of you are entering the residential master’s program, 89 are entering the online master’s program, 25 are entering the Ph.D. program, and 25 are entering the Ed.L.D. program.  

In the audience today are students from across the United States and around the world.  We have 51 countries of citizenship represented here, with students from China, Nigeria, Poland, Egypt, India, Nicaragua, and Kazakhstan, to name a few.

Among you are teachers, researchers, policymakers, leaders, activists, public servants, artists, innovators, and dreamers. Some of you are preparing for a first career and have always known that you wanted to be in education. Others have come from different fields and look to transition into the field. Still others of you have long been in education, and you seek this time to reflect on your practice and learn more about the context and conditions in which you work.  

You bring to HGSE an astonishing array of experiences, perspectives, and accomplishments.  But no matter where you’re from and what you’ve joined us to do, we are delighted that you are here.

As you begin this year, I’d like to take a moment to share a couple of things you should know and offer a few words of advice:

You Belong Here

The first thing to know is you belong here. 

Make no mistake: You are an impressive group. But some of you may be secretly asking yourself, “Was I an admissions mistake?”  

The answer is a firm ‘no,’ but it’s perfectly understandable to be a bit intimidated by this place and the amazing people around you. I know that’s how I felt when I started as a graduate student at Harvard a few years ago — let’s not focus too much on the exact amount of time.

But first, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge something major: many of you just completed your Foundations courses. You’ve already successfully taken your first step! Congratulations!  

For some of you, it’s been quite a while since you’ve been on the student side of a classroom. And I know the last few weeks have been intense for many — including the faculty. Still, recognize that you’re already making progress, and we are all anxious to see you continue your journey this fall.

And to the doctoral students, I know that summer has also been a time of connecting with your new peers, taking time to prepare yourselves, and starting to get involved.  After meeting you all last week, I know you are ready to hit the ground running this fall semester. 

The slide show at the beginning of this event is just a small testament to all you’ve already done, and your journey is just beginning!  

Regardless of your path here today, let me emphasize what I said before: you belong here. Yes, there’s overwhelming evidence of how smart you are, but we also wanted you for your work ethic, your imagination, and your potential.  

Most importantly, we wanted your passion for improving education — whether that inside or outside of classroom; in non-profits or in government; in early childhood centers or in college student success offices; in urban, suburban, or rural contexts; in the U.S. or abroad. At HGSE, we are united by a common purpose. You belong here because you want to improve the world through education. And you now are part of an amazing community of people who want to do the same. 

The Person Next to You Belongs Here Too

This brings me to my second point.  The person next to you belongs here too.  Like you, they have earned this opportunity.  Take a look around you.  Just to give you a sense of this year’s fascinating, caring, talented, and entrepreneurial class:

  • We have students who have received a wide range of awards, including the National After-School Association Award and Georgia’s Teacher of the Year award.
  • People who have helped students achieve high academic growth as principals and district leaders in schools in Mississippi, Michigan, Colorado, and Rhode Island, among others 
  • And someone who created the first ever digital school in Recife (“heh-see-fee”), Brazil
  • You have someone who worked as a researcher for the US Olympic and Paralympic committee 
  • While someone else founded an organization in Bolivia that works with the penitentiary system and children’s hospitals to provide educational opportunities to those with little access
  • And there’s another person who led an effort to restore health care coverage to 176,000 uninsured children in Texas 
  • Your cohort includes someone who worked for UNICEF Nepal 
  • And there’s a person who led the charter school office at the New York City Department of Education
  • And let us not forget about the person who is a Master Teaching Artist with a dance theater and the professional chef with the hopes of revolutionizing how we understand food through mass education and policy reform.
  • And finally, there is someone who served as a technical director and character artist for Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar. 

As you can see, you are surrounded by a talented set of peers, and together, you make a wonderfully diverse cohort in terms of your experiences, backgrounds, and identities as well as in your perspectives and intended contributions in education. I hope you have already started to get to know the others here. Your colleagues will sharpen your viewpoints, support you during the hard times, and help to expose you to a wealth of ideas.

With what I just shared, I hope you will be comforted that you are in the right place with an outstanding set of peers. So what should you do with your time at HGSE?  Please let me briefly offer few words of advice.

The Importance of Education

First, let’s I’d like to take a moment to consider where we are — not in terms of place, but in terms of time. The pandemic is not far behind us, and the effects and repercussions of the last three years are on full display, from evidence of growing inequities, concerns about mental health, and teacher shortages around the country. For many of us who have long worked in education, the gaps and inequality we are seeing are not new, but the last three years have brought new light to the stark realities faced in our school systems. 

As Professor Paul Reville, the former Massachusetts Secretary of Education wrote, “It’s as though a big wave has pulled back the sea revealing the ocean floor and all its disturbing realities that had heretofore been hidden beneath the surface of the water.”

Know that as educators, what we do is essential. And I mean the word “educators” in the broadest sense possible — whether you plan to be inside or outside of schools, with our youngest learners or adults, in the U.S. or somewhere else globally.

We represent the entire education ecosystem, and together, that is an impressive force for good.  The contributions we can make as individuals — and more importantly, as a community — are considerable and have never been needed more. So as we look ahead, there is a great deal of work that we need to do for the world. Let us never lose sight of that.

Lessons from the Pandemic

Let us also not forget the lessons learned from the past several years.

You weathered the storm of changing health protocols and unexpected resurgences and new variants that required us all to continually adapt our practices and policies, along with the ordinary ways we connected with each other. What do we take away from these experiences? I would suggest that the first thing we learned is that resilience is a muscle — something you cultivate and grow through the trials and tribulations of your life.

And I cannot say that the turmoil is over — it certainly won’t be for many. Even as we return to our pre-pandemic traditions and norms, realize that the heightened sense of vulnerability and uncertainty you have felt over these several years will continue for many we seek to support — including children and families locked in poverty. More than 4 in 10 children live in a household struggling to meet basic expenses. Worldwide, the numbers are even higher, with one out of five children living in extreme poverty.  These students and their families are carrying an extra burden as they face the multiple ways in which poverty causes harm — from food insecurity to lack of health care and threats to safety and stability. I hope we have a new awareness and compassion for the stress, strain, and uncertainty that dominates the lives of too many.  

No, this is still very much a difficult time, and we need to dive into the work. 

While you are here, be prepared to confront hard truths and difficult topics. Be prepared to be in dialogue with people who will disagree with you. Be prepared to make mistakes and confront your own personal weaknesses.
This field of education is not for the faint of heart. You're not only here to learn; you are here to build the strength the world needs from us as educators, and we’re going to help you do that.

Remember Why You Came

My final piece of advice is to remember why you came. I hope you all came here to gain skills and knowledge so you can make contributions to others.

Many of you are motivated by the promise of what education could be and the unfortunate reality of what it actually is for too many students. There are gaps in opportunity and success at all levels — from access to high-quality early childhood education; to segregation and insufficient rigor and supports in K–12 classrooms; to uneven access, low graduation rates, and looming debt in higher education.  

In past years, I’ve told new cohorts of students to remember who isn’t here, and I implore you to do the same. You didn’t come to HGSE just to get an education for yourself, but to improve the lives of those who can’t be here. I’m sure you think of people in the communities from which you came who are depending on what you will learn and how you will grow in ways that will benefit us all.

This year, while you are being exposed to a wealth of new information, ideas, and perspectives, don’t lose your sense of why you came. Look back at the narrative you wrote in your application and the list of skills and experiences you hope to grow while here.  Think back to what prompted you to first consider furthering your education, and don’t get lost in the commotion and frenzy of this hectic year.  

In essence, keep your eye on the prize. You came here with purpose. You are building on expertise you’ve already developed and a sense of the impact you want to have. Honor that.

I want to close by again recognizing this special time and beginning. Remember that you belong, and cherish what you will learn with and from those around you. Also be sure to remember your purpose for coming here and the importance of the work we do.  

Use this time to empower yourself and your colleagues to do good in the world, whether that be through practice, research, policy, entrepreneurship, or some other type of service.

With courageous hearts and open minds, let’s start this adventure together!


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