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You Belong Here: Dean Long's Prepared Orientation Remarks

Dean Bridget Terry Long welcomes HGSE's Centennial Class to campus at Orientation 2019.
Bridget Terry Long

Dean Bridget Long delivers the "Dean's Welcome" at Orientation 2019

Photo by Jill Anderson

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 to our remarkable community.

During this week of orientation, my colleagues and I will introduce you to the 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 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:

  • Julie Deland, Director of Admissions
  • Marc Johnson, Associate Dean for Degree Programs
  • Tracie Jones, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • Gayle Merrithew, Registrar
  • Val Sutton, Director of Career Services
  • Patty White, Director of Financial Aid

Also on stage with me are Maritza Hernandez, associate dean for enrollment and student services, and Joe McIntyre, lecturer on education and the 2019 Morningstar Family Teaching Award recipient. They will both speak to you later in the program, and I will introduce them more formally then.

Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Massachusett people, and the land on which many of our homes, schools, and places of work sit are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

I also recognize the enslaved individuals who helped to build this university and others across the country, understanding the role that they played in creating the structures of educational institutions that were not intended to serve them.

Though acknowledging this history is a small step, it moves us in the direction of ensuring a culture of respect and accountability within our community.

Who You Are

During this welcome, I’d like to begin by introducing you to one another. Today, we are welcoming 683 students: 626 of you are entering master’s students, 25 are entering the Ph.D. Program, 25 are entering Ed.L.D. Program, and seven students are part of our Certificate of Advanced Study program. 

In the audience today are students from across the United States and the world. We have 52 countries of citizenship represented here, with students from Cuba, Iceland, Ghana, Sudan, and Vietnam, 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 of education. 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 Appian Way an astonishing array of experiences, perspectives, and accomplishments. But no matter where you’re from and what you’ve come here to do, we are delighted that you’re here.

Your cohort also holds special significance. You are the Centennial Class of HGSE. The school officially began in 1920 and was the first school to award degrees to women at Harvard University. The next year, in 1921, we were the first school in the world to award a doctorate in education degree, and this was the beginning of a long list of “firsts.” During 2020, our year of commemoration, you will get to experience a series of events that celebrate the past and look forward to the future. I hope you will enjoy this special time to be here.

A Couple of Things You Should Know

As you begin this year, I’d like to take a moment to tell you 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 sitting there wondering, “What in the world am I doing?” Let me first assure you, You belong here.

You may be secretly asking yourself, “Was I the admissions mistake?” The answer is a firm ‘no,’ but it’s perfectly understandable to suffer from impostor syndrome — and if you don’t know what that is, consider yourselves lucky. It can be intimidating to be at Harvard, with all the weighty expectations that carries.

I can identify with that. A few years ago (let’s not focus on the exact amount of time), I sat where you are as an entering graduate student in the Economics Department at Harvard. I looked around and thought — oh my goodness, I don’t belong here. I was surrounded by people who were not of my race or my gender — and I assumed that we couldn’t possibly have much in common. That turned out not to be true, and I still have cherished friends from graduate school, but I’m happy to look around this tent and see how far things have progressed. Still, that feeling of isolation and otherness can be very real and as true today as it was years ago.

But let me fill you in on a little secret: You belong here. Each and every one of you have shown us how you’ve successfully tackled challenges and made the most of the opportunities you’ve been given. Your accomplishments are not easily summarized in a test score or letter grade. Sure, you’re wicked smaht, 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 be at the classroom 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 join 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:

  • founded an organization in Nigeria that provides youth employment training and support;
  • coached math teachers on instructional skills and tactics;
  • delivered life-saving care as an emergency medical technician;
  • developed a curriculum for high school Ethnic Studies courses;
  • taught military science to students in Texas; and
  • created curriculum assessment software for kindergarten through eighth grade.

One of you is a birth doula and another was a legislative aide to a U.S. senator. And one of you served as a senior vice president of global tax at 21st Century Fox, so needless to say, you are coming from many walks of life.

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 views on education.  

Words of Advice

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

(1)    Growing from a “Crowd” to a “Community”

My first hope for you is that you go from being a crowd to a community. “Community” is a beautiful word. That is what we welcome you into. That is what we want you to become. How do you go from being individuals here with your own ideas and goals to being a collective? It doesn’t happen automatically, so my first piece of advice is to actively seek to become a community.

Did you know that we are the most diverse school at Harvard? By all counts, we have more racial and ethnic diversity. And then consider the identities that aren’t quite as visible and don’t show up in demographic statistics. Diversity in terms of whether you are a first-generation college student; hold dear and observe a religious tradition; come from a different part of the political spectrum than what you perceive around you; or are from a small town in the rural Midwest rather than one of big cities on the coasts. Yes, we have a school that is more diverse than most in the world.

Wouldn’t it be a shame to let the opportunity of building on this great diversity go by without enjoying its benefits. Shouldn’t your different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas come out in our learning and interactions? To fulfill “the promise of diversity,” we must also take seriously interactions and exchanges with each other.

As you prepare for an increasingly complex world, I hope you’ll embrace opportunities to engage with each other so that you learn from the many new perspectives you will encounter. I hope you will learn to respectfully navigate differences of opinion and will test your own assumptions and perhaps even be open to changing your mind.

Through your engagement with your peers, I hope you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for people and ideas that you might not have naturally gravitated toward. And I hope you’ll have a deeper sense of who you are and what you believe through your exposure to this multiplicity of perspectives.

Let’s be honest. It will be messy at times. There will be moments when you are uncomfortable. There will be moments when you’ll want to turn away in frustration or confusion. But I ask you to listen generously. I ask you to be a learner and recognize the learning happening around you.  

Not only do you belong here and so does the person next to you, but you have so much to offer to each other. And together, we will make progress, not only as individuals, but as a community of people working to improve education. Your classmates may very well be the most valuable part of your HGSE experience. And that is how a crowd becomes a community. Your time here would be woefully incomplete without each other.

(2) Remember Why You Came

My second piece of advice is to remember why you came. You may have articulated it slightly differently, but I hope you all came here to gain skills and knowledge so you can make a contribution 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. 

Last year, I told the new cohort 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 you hope to obtain while here. Think back to those experiences that 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.

(3) But Take Some Time to Explore

Finally, while you need to remember your purpose for being here, do take some time to explore. A piece of advice that you have likely already heard but is worth repeating is to take full advantage of all that HGSE and Harvard have to offer. This is especially true for you, our Centennial Class. As the year goes on, we will be hosting various events highlighting HGSE’s history and contributions, and I hope to see you there.

And keep an eye out for information regarding an event celebrating Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary and it’s special relationship with HGSE, which will take place in early October in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. 

Another opportunity to look out for is the Dinners, Dilemmas, and Debates Program, also known as 3D. This initiative started several years ago and quickly became a valued HGSE program. It provides the opportunity for a faculty or staff member and small group of students to practice discussing challenging topics outside of the classroom setting, and importantly, over a meal.

Finally, I encourage you to listen to and engage with the many guests who speak at our campus each year. Through Askwith Forums and other events, we draw some of education’s leading and most compelling voices to Appian Way.

In short, experience as much as you can, as you will be amazed at how quickly time goes by.

I want to close by again recognizing this special beginning. You are starting a new adventure at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Remember that you belong and cherish what you will learn with and from those around you, and I hope it won’t be long before this crowd becomes a community.  Also be sure to remember your purpose for coming here and take time to explore as well. 

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

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

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