We were pleased to welcome Bob Carpenter ’73 back to campus to deliver the commencement address at Morgan Park Academy’s 147th graduation exercises on July 25, 2020.
Carpenter began his career as a consultant in the Chicago office of the Boston Consulting Group. He served in senior management information technology and services positions at companies such as Square D, AT&T, and NCR, before becoming President and CEO of IHS, a leading worldwide content, software, and services provider of technical and business information solutions. Since leaving IHS, he has focused on private investments and not-for-profit organizations.
He holds a B.A. in history and political science from DePauw University, an M.A. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“Our current times are challenging, but in many ways not unique. You have your family, and your wider Academy family to help you — and your help will be needed for MPA to continue to thrive. Like many before you, you will be called upon to lead in ways both great and small.”
Good morning. Thank you, Steve, for your kind words and congratulations on your well-deserved recognition for all you’ve done for the Academy. It’s a tremendous achievement and all of us in the class of ’73 are very proud of you.
And for you young, soon-to-be graduates, that’s 1973, not 1873. We’re not quite as old as we look.
This morning, I’d like to add, first of all, my welcome to the graduating class of Morgan Park Academy as our newest, soon-to-be alumni. And my thanks to the head of school, Mercedes Z. Sheppard, and the board chair, Heidi Yernberg, for the opportunity to speak to you all today. And my congratulations to you, the graduates, your families — who are often the unsung heroes of the moment — and of course, Academy teachers and administrators.
While there’s no doubt we meet today in an odd fashion, and under unusual circumstances, I am very pleased that we could be here physically on campus today. First and foremost, because I went online and read the bios of the young graduates, and you are a very interesting group of young people, and I’m delighted to address you in person.
But also for me, coming back to campus and seeing, once again, Alumni, Hansen, and Barker halls, and, of course, the gym and what was once the football field, I cannot help but reflect on what’s happened here over the Academy’s almost 150-year history and the lives of over 7,000 young people that were forever changed here. And as I reflect, I believe that the experiences and challenges of the Academy over those years has some lessons for all of us, today and in years to come.
Perhaps it had something to do with being founded in 1873 on a ridge overlooking Horse Thief Hollow and Robber’s Woods. It should have been a warning that the life of the Academy was destined to be a hardscrabble and challenging one, unlike some other private schools, that will be unnamed. Perhaps the Academy’s founding two years after the Chicago Great Fire and during the financial panic of 1873 wasn’t the best of beginnings. And the challenges continued over the years.
All in all, the Academy has persevered through the first and second World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, numerous other conflicts. It’s thrived through 16 financial downturns, including the Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the not-so-great current Great Shutdown. As well, of course, as the Spanish Flu of 1919 and the COVID-19 epidemic. Over its long history, the Academy has changed both in form and in response to these challenges and to seize new opportunities under a number of different names.
There’s basically been four periods of the life in the Academy. The first almost 20 years of the school consisted of a series of military academies, and the second major period in the life of the Academy began in 1892 when the Academy became a preparatory school for the University of Chicago and was renamed Morgan Park Academy of the University of Chicago. As a preparatory school for the U of C, the university and the Academy shared educators and even the legendary football coach, Amos Alonso Stagg.
While the Academy benefited greatly from the 15-year association with the university, Morgan Park Academy was almost forced to close in 1907 when the U of C ended its financial support. Community and alumni support saved the school and in 1909 it became Morgan Park Academy. But less than 10 years later, in its third major reincarnation, nearing the end of World War I in 1918, the decision was made to return to a full time day and boarding military academy.
During its 41-year existence, marked by numerous conflicts, as well as the Great Depression, Morgan Park Military Academy developed a reputation as an outstanding military and college preparatory school and was, and is, a source of great pride to many alumni. And in this year, the 75th anniversary of the successful ending of World War II, in Europe and in Asia, it’s fitting to pay tribute to the many alumni who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and to the 68 Academy alumni who gave their lives in service to the country.
Finally, in 1959, the Academy became, once again, Morgan Park Academy, an institution that in the past 61 years, has faced numerous challenges and great success in the education of well over 2,000 alumni.
Looking back on the long, varied, challenging, and successful history of the Academy, I believe that across the years, and all the institutional changes, there are four common elements behind the Academy’s success.
The first is leadership. From founder Samuel S. Norton to Col. H.D. Abells to Mr. David Jones to Mrs. Sheppard, the Academy has a history of extraordinarily dedicated and creative leadership in very challenging times.
Secondly, as times changed and challenges mounted, the leaders of the Academy responded and innovated. For example, starting in 1933, Morgan Park Military Academy survived the Great Depression by, among other things, starting a junior college and offering summer school courses to boys and girls from public and parochial schools.
Interestingly enough, although the junior college is long gone, I recently noted that MPA offers almost 30 summer school courses for high school students, and in the days to come, I would not be surprised if the Academy didn’t take a leading role in the provision of high quality, non-credit, distanced learning courses as well as providing a superb on-campus education.
Additionally, as Steve has noted, whatever the format of the Academy, students, faculty, and administration at the Academy strove, and strive, for excellence. This is evident in the small class sizes, the close collaboration in learning between students and teachers, and especially the often lifelong dedication of the Academy’s teachers and coaches. Speaking personally, my thanks to you, Dr. Larry Brown, Coach Chuck Cleary, Coach Warren Jones, and many others.
Finally and very importantly, at numerous times in the Academy’s history, financial support from Academy families, alumni, and the community have saved the Academy. I’ve noted earlier how difficult it was for the school after the U of C cut off its education and financial support, but few people know that the Academy was saved in 1907 by alumni and community when they raised between $100,000 and $400,000 to help fund the school. Today that would be the equivalent of $3 million and $10 million. Equally importantly, the community showed its support of the Academy by sending generation after generation of new students here to be educated as well as supporting new student families.
So, what does this all mean, particularly to you, our newest and youngest alumni? First of all, our current times are challenging, but not, in many ways, unique. Secondly, you are not alone. You have your family, and your wider Academy family, teachers, staff, and over 2,500 living alumni to help you, and your help will be needed for MPA to continue to thrive. And finally, like many before you, you will be called upon to lead in ways both great and small. And in preparation for your call to leadership, I have a few thoughts that may be of use to you in the days to come.
As you aspire to lead and assume future leadership positions, I would ask you to consider pursuing and further developing seven personal attributes.
First, watch your personal volume.
It’s my experience that the louder the voice in a debate or discussion the more it’s intended to threaten or intimidate rather than persuade. Loud voices may win approval, but usually only from those who already agree with you. A firm but quieter voice signals that in addition to the speaking, you are also willing to listen.
Second, lead with knowledge and experience. If you seek to lead, lead with deep knowledge, and when possible personal experience.
When I was a young man, the great existential threat to America was the Soviet Union with its communist ideology, state-run economy, expansionist foreign policy, and vast military strength, including thousands of thermo-nuclear missiles. I can still recall as an elementary school student huddled under my desk during a nuclear bomb drill. “Better dead than red” was a familiar slogan.
But because I did not wish to be either dead or red, as a college student I traveled and studied in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in order to better learn about life under communism. For years afterwards, I could credibly use that knowledge and experience in discussion with others who believed in the merits or weaknesses of European communism. And in your search for knowledge, please remember that intellect alone is not knowledge. It takes intellect, learning, experience, and perhaps a dose of humility to develop deep knowledge and possibly wisdom.
Third, be open to debate and discussion.
Of course, even knowledge and experience is useless if one is unwilling to enter into discussions with people who hold different opinions. And as of late, there seems to be a school of thought that even hearing opposing thoughts can psychologically injure one. I am of a different mind.
Perhaps it was as a graduate student daily seeing Mr. Jefferson’s quotation on the old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia describing the university as a place where, “here, we are not afraid to follow the truth, wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so as long as reason is free to combat it.” Thought control is the hallmark of totalitarian societies. Free discussion and debate is the oxygen of free communities. If you would expect to have the right to be heard, you must allow the others to the right to speak even when you disagree.
Fourth, I would encourage you to search for common objectives and values with others, particularly with those who hold different opinions, for often our disagreements and antagonisms are over means and not ends.
I think about this when I remember an introductory class my first year at business school where our class was divided into two groups representing countries and each group was told to negotiate for a very scarce resource that was desperately needed by countries to cure a different but deadly disease. The resource was a rare and special orange.
Well, the debate between the two sides ranged for over an hour as very young bright people brought all their skills and emotions to bear on the critical negotiations. Tensions in the room ran high. But it was only near the end of the class with a very careful rereading of the case that we discovered that one side needed only the pulp of the oranges, the other side needed only the peels. The conflict between the two sides was unnecessary.
Fifth, strive to show and feel compassion for others. A genuine feeling of concern for others is the key to opening their hearts and minds to what you have to say.
And along those lines, if you wish to persuade and lead, avoid labeling others. Today the labels seem to fall like rain from the sky. Sexist, racist, anarchist, xenophobe, the list goes on. Whatever the source, left or right, progressive or conservative, the purpose of labels is to intellectually assassinate the other person, to invalidate without discussion or debate the ideas, thoughts, and values of that person.
I am reminded of an old Clint Eastwood movie, “Unforgiven,” where Clint, as an old gunfighter, talks to his young partner who no longer has the will, desire, or inclination to kill other men.
“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man,” Clint says, “You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
I believe a label does much the same thing, and after applying it to someone, you will never never win that person’s confidence or support.
Seventh and finally, model the behavior you wish to see in others. Or as Gandhi famously said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I think that too often today one sees prominent people who believe that they have only to say the words or support the thought and that their actions to the contrary do not matter or may be excused, or sometimes they believe their actions are not noticed at all. In truth, nothing is more corrosive in society than the hypocrisy between the words and deeds of its leaders, and the hypocrisy is noticed, particularly as you assume positions of leadership.
In studying the Soviet Union, I believe that its fall was not necessarily due to military or economic weakness, as much as to its citizens knowing that its leadership, theoretically servants of the people, refused to share in the hardships of a failed system and had their own special schools, stores, vacation resorts, and rights. With many faults, ultimately, the Soviet Union died of its own hypocrisy.
In concluding today, I can’t promise you positions of great power or wealth, but I do believe that if you consider these thoughts, you will make a difference and be appreciated by many for your leadership.
Finally, I end today as we began, with a focus on your achievements and your graduation. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read your bios and am impressed with your achievements, plans, but particularly what your teachers said about you.
So to you,
- Anthony, the thoughtful;
- Kelsey the determined;
- Daniel, the responsible and artistic;
- to Abby, the taker of challenges;
- to Andrea, the seeker of knowledge;
- to Shane the humorous intellect;
- to Maryn, the calm seeker of challenges;
- Jason, the kind lover of knowledge;
- and to Zach, the quiet deep-thinker;
- to LaDaeja, a strong character and kind heart;
- Luming, the independent thinker;
- to Matthew, the passionate lover of music, science, and animals;
- to Brandon, he of independent mind and unique voice;
- to Elijah, the helper of the young and teacher;
- to Samaria, a wonderful student athlete;
- to Rustam, a persistent pursuer of challenges;
- to Tasnime, the kind, thoughtful, and insightful;
- to Logan, a carefree, upbeat scientist;
- and Danae, the fearless and strong-willed;
- to Adair, the enthusiastic;
- Jordan, a kind lover of people and nature;
- to Kaitlyn, the caring, kind, and considerate;
- Giles, a vibrant personality and welcoming spirit;
- and Sofia, the kind-hearted and talented artist;
- to Kennedy, the warm, confident, and determined;
- to Drew, the optimistic lover of life;
- and Alex, the dedicated scholar, passionate artist;
- to Annika, the smart, sweet, lover of languages and music;
- Ava, the warm-hearted and compassionate;
- and to Olga, the passionate, hardworking, and determined;
- DeAngelo, the persistent, creative, and curious student athlete;
- Hailey, the joyous performer;
- Celeste, the passionate and dedicated helper of others;
- Chelsea, a soft-spoken, kind leader;
- Dillon, the compassionate and empathetic listener;
- Amari, the loyal, honest, and admired;
- and to Chloe, the teller of stories —
To all of you: Develop and use your deep knowledge and experience. Apply it with compassion to persuade others to work towards common goods. Model yourself to the standards you wish to see in others.
And finally, like Morgan Park Academy, persevere in excellence, persevere in service, and persevere in life.
Thank you, and may God bless you and keep you always.