"Together We Will Work to Make a Difference"
Dr. Sands shared a personal and powerful message at our first All-School Meeting of the 2017-2018 school year. Read on for the full text of her remarks.
I am named for my grandmother, Priscilla Goodwyn Griffin. Although she died over 50 years ago, even today, I continue to grieve for her. She was tall, stately, and wore her steel grey hair in a braided bun. I loved seeing her at night when she unwound the braid and let it loose, which, to my delight, flowed down her back nearly to her waist. She taught me to play chess and we watched baseball games together, particularly the Phillies. When my parents found her on the stairs, where she had fallen from an aneurysm, her last words were, "My dahling Phillies won." She was the original Southern Steel Magnolia, but she was also my advocate and my safe haven and we occasionally shared a common enemy - my mother.
After my grandmother died, I read a letter that she had written to me for my high school graduation, but never had a chance to give me. She wrote about coming to Maine where I was born and finding me screaming, my exhausted mother holding me, and my outspoken three year-old sister imperiously demanding, "Can't someone make that baby be quiet?" She took me in her arms and cradled me to sleep. That comfort lasted all of my life.
Every Sunday growing up, my cousins and I converged at my grandparents' house. I loved them dearly and they were fun playmates, but they were all high-achieving, high-charging, alpha athletes and students, while I was bookish, a little dreamy, and loved to ride horseback, especially with my grandmother. Galloping over fields allowed for my own private gateway into a world of imagination and whimsy. My grandmother was never judgmental, celebrated my dreaminess, and often tried, in vain, to explain me to my mother in her soft but firm southern accent.
One hot August day, as the cicadas were heralding the slow, drawn out end of summer, and my languorous vacation was winding down, I was in my grandmother's living room watching television. We were mesmerized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was addressing throngs of people in the sweltering heat of a late August afternoon. Over 200,000 demonstrators who were marching on Washington, DC for Jobs and Freedom, were utterly transfixed, as were the millions watching on TV as he delivered his iconic speech which would be forever known by his on-the-spot improvised line, "I Have a Dream." I watched in awe, as did she. When he finished, I turned to her and asked, "What did you think?" And without hesitation my grandmother told me that Dr. King would be an inspiration for our country. She said, "You know, Priscilla dear, we are watching history and history changes."
I am telling you this story because my grandmother, whom I called Till, was born in 1888 in Robinson Springs, outside of Montgomery, Alabama. Her family had lost their money and land during the Civil War, and it was a hardscrabble life for her and her four siblings. Her father had been a colonel in the Confederate army. She paid her tuition to Swarthmore College by traveling up the East Coast performing in semi-professional theaters and giving readings, and after she graduated she was named Interim Dean of Women at Swarthmore, where she met my grandfather who was a physics professor.
She was also President of the Robert E. Lee Society. She was proud of this position, and she would drive from Pennsylvania to Virginia for meetings. I knew little about her work as I was mostly involved in my own high school life at the time and becoming aware and involved with Civil Rights. Till loved her Northern and Southern families and her heritage, but as I began to question and push back, she did not argue and told me that times were different and that they would and should change. I know she voted for John Kennedy, much to the horror of my grandfather who was a rock bed Republican.
I have thought about my grandmother a good deal over these past weeks and have asked myself, over and over, how might she have reacted to Charlottesville? I am fairly confident that she would have joined the Lee Family in supporting the removal of the statue. But more than a statue, I am absolutely sure - this I know - she would have been appalled by the White Supremacists, Neo Nazis, and all of the hate groups protesting and marching in Charlottesville and flourishing in parts of our country. She would have been unequivocal about the false equivalency of there being two sides of the issue. She would have always been respectful of legitimate conversations about substantive issues. As an educator, I cherish debate and ideas and I expect you to find that opportunity in your classes. But there can be no false equivalencies about the groups we saw carrying torches in the streets. No "fine people" marched, shouting choreographed anti-Semitic or racist slogans. None. No one accidentally becomes swept up in hatred.
So today, exactly fifty years after my grandmother and I listened to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and with great humility, I am heeding Dr. King's wisdom and saying that each one of us must have a dream for a better world, one that comes from a place of equity, inclusion, and love. And we cannot and must not equivocate.
Marlborough is one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, and with that honor comes great responsibility -- to this community, to this city, and to each other. You are members of a community that asks, what can we each do to make life better for everyone? If we care about being a school that defines itself by feminism, then there is no place for social cruelty. I want Marlborough women to meet this challenge and to pledge that social media is for social good and social change. Find one thing that you care about so that you make one corner of the world a better place, not something for your resume for college but because you care. Be an upstander and take care of one another. Speak out against racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, and all the -isms that separate and marginalize others. You are here, at this time, in this place, and at this moment in history, and together we will work to make a difference and we will one day be able to look back and say, we did this work together. We changed our community. We made at least a part of the world a better place. We are Marlborough.
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I want to empower young women to speak openly and candidly about issues of race and gender with the understanding that while we all want to have empathy and to be good people, we cannot walk in the shoes of others and therefore must listen to learn.
"I am confident that the world will be safer and better when we all make way for these amazing girls to gently lead us into the light."
"Be yourself, she says. "The college admissions officers are trying to know the real you..."