Ladies and gentlemen, it has been said that, to an actor, applause is like a meal. By such a reckoning, your reception today has offered me a banquet. Thank you very much.
And thank you Jared Weeden, Charlie Salisbury, Chuck Ramsay and President Mark Gearan.
I appreciate especially the presence here of the splendid Hobart and William Smith Colleges Chorale. Weren’t they terrific? Lincoln Center talent scouts have been here looking you over, and listening carefully.
Here at Lincoln Center, in the presence of classmates, fellow alumni, current and former trustees, former alumni association presidents and past president Richard Hersh, in the company of friends, colleagues and mentors, and before an angelically tolerant family: my wife, Elizabeth, my son, Justin, and our daughter, Emily. I accept with gratitude and humility Hobart College’s Medal of Excellence.
So many of you in this room have encouraged and supported me during periods of my privileged professional life: as staff director of the task force on the New York City fiscal crisis; as executive director of the 92nd Street Y; as president of the AT&T Foundation and senior officer of AT&T company; as president of the International Rescue Committee; or, while I taught at Universities or wrote books, or served as a consultant. Indeed, a number of you here are close colleagues, now, as I serve as the president of Lincoln Center.
In fact, more than a few of you in this audience enjoy considerably less net wealth because you fell victim to my fundraising appeals in one or more of these professional incarnations.
Alas, for me, but fortunately for all of you, President Gearan has strictly forbidden solicitations of any kind this evening. So you can all relax.
As we enjoy this evening’s festivities, the immediate after-effects of the unprecedented earthquake and tsunami in Asia still take their toll in the loss of lives, in the separation of children and parents, in homes, in livelihoods and communities gone, as in a flash.
Incalculable suffering befalls humankind as well in the eastern Congo, in northern Uganda and in the Darfur region of the Sudan, where death by the thousands from armed conflict, starvation and disease comes with every passing month. Perhaps even less understandably, this devastation emanates from manmade causes.
It is truly a privilege, then, to receive the very same award as was bestowed upon six other distinguished Hobart graduates in this room today. In connection with humanitarian crisis, permit me to mention just one. My classmate, Dr. Robert Peter Gale, a bone marrow specialist, whose intervention in another cataclysmic event in our generation the Chernobyl nuclear disaster saved many lives and eased much suffering.
Tonight’s occasion takes place in the world’s preeminent performing arts center. Comprised of 12 of the most consequential institutions of their kind: the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, the Juilliard School, the New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center Theater, the Chamber Music Society, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Library for the Performing Arts and Lincoln Center itself, our impact extends far beyond the 20,627 seats of the 22 venues we own, beyond the hundreds of public schools in which we work, even beyond the 5,000,000 people who annually attend our events or visit our campus.
This far reaching impact is due in no small measure to the work of two other Hobart medal winners: Willis A. Adcock, Class of ’44, the developer of the silicon transistor and Warren A. Littlefield, Class of ’74, the former president of NBC entertainment. The accomplishments of these gentlemen span much of the communications revolution wrought by radio, television and the Internet, forms of media without which the reach of Lincoln Center would be vastly reduced.
Truly, I am humbled by the company I keep, those in this room and those who experienced with me the impact that a small community of teachers and scholars, dedicated to learning and devoted to their students, could have on impressionable young women and men.
Tonight, I celebrate Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Spanning three centuries, these Colleges have withstood the test of time. Through wars and recessions, hoop skirts and hula hoops, the dawning of the iron curtain and the toppling of the Berlin Wall, the go-go years and the days of economic reckoning; through it all, you have embodied our aspiration for what it means to be an educated man or woman.
You taught us that ideas matter deeply. That they must be encountered directly, in original texts, not just derivatively in text books. That ideas have consequences. That ignorance imprisons, and truth liberates. That the mind and the body need nurturance and regular exercise. That there is little more noble than deepening and broadening an understanding of ourselves, our origins and our surroundings. And that doing so is a never ending journey of discovery, awakening and renewal.
Tonight, I celebrate a sacred place that gave me the precious opportunity to appreciate solitude and to cherish the life of the mind. It was at Hobart that the values animating the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the peace movement took shape for me. Somehow, the confidence exhibited in me then nurtured the notion that through informed reflection and applied energy, the world could change, and I might make a small difference.
And, truly, I have found that there are few pleasures more enduring than offering gifts to others of access to learning in all of its forms, of relieving pain, of helping to repair lives and restore livelihoods, and of strengthening institutions, like Hobart, like Lincoln Center, that matter so much to all those who encounter them.
These deeply held civic commitments are not just the stuff of elections, important as their outcome is to any citizenry. They are played out every day in our free market economy, non-profit institutions, our civil society, and our third sector. To be involved with them is the essence of a well-led life.
In its insistence that students prepare themselves for a life of learning and mattering, and in its nurturing of the qualities of mind and of heart needed to become worthy citizens, Hobart performs with distinction.
It shaped my life in many ways. I owe it much. And, in that, I am hardly alone.
And so it gives me great pleasure to witness Mark Gearan as its thoughtful, caring, impressive president.
Mark, as you take Hobart and William Smith from strength to strength, you may sometimes hear sounds in the distance.
Fear not. It’s only alumni, alumnae, parents, students and friends of the Colleges admiringly and gratefully cheering you on.
Thank you all for being here.
Thank you very much.
Medal of Excellence Award Ceremony, Reynold Levy '66, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
February 3, 2005