What you do matters.
During winter break, our family was fortunate to travel to Washington, D.C. and take in the memorials, museums, and houses of government. There may be no better place in our country to reflect on our history and contemplate our future.
For me, the highlights of our trip were Arlington National Cemetery and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At Arlington, it's impossible not to be profoundly moved by the seemingly endless rows of the graves of men and women who served our country. The Changing of the Guard is something I wish every American could witness, because the ritual so poignantly embodies the honor we owe those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The Holocaust Museum is haunting for another reason altogether. It memorializes the mass slaughter of Jews, invalids, Gypsies, homosexuals, people of color, political dissidents, the mentally ill, Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons, unionists, communists, and many other minority groups not considered to be part of the Nazis' Aryan master race. The Holocaust Museum also honors the people who were willing to risk their lives to protect those who could not protect themselves.
Of all the quotes in the Holocaust Museum, I found this one by Martin Niemöller most convicting:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
You may be wondering to yourself how this has anything to do with The Foundry. I've written before about how character matters at our school. For us, character isn't just about following a list of rules and avoiding a disciplinary situation. At The Foundry, character is about honor, empathy, compassion, justice, doing the right thing even when no one is looking, being respectful of a person's beliefs even when you disagree, and speaking up for those who have no voice. Whether it's a discussion in House about racism, a wounded warrior challenging the students to think critically about war, a Harkness table centered around the proud moments in American history and the ones for which we hang our heads in shame... our students are challenged daily to reflect, to act with kindness, and to make a difference in the world.
Niemöller was an early supporter of Nazism who later came to regret his antisemitism and felt guilty about his welcoming of the Third Reich. To this day, his words remind us to speak up for justice, equality, and compassion for everyone, especially for those who can't stand up for themselves. The Tomb Guard, walking back and forth, day in and day out, protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is a visual reminder that, in America, we have the freedom and responsibility to speak up for the oppressed and to fight against tyranny in the world.
After experiencing both Arlington and the Holocaust Museum, I purchased a magnet that reads, "What you do matters." It's on our fridge next to the Niemöller quote, as a constant challenge to our family. As a parent, I'm grateful that my son attends The Foundry, where he is taught every day that what he does matters and that one person doing the right thing can change the world.