2012 dawns around a globe anxiously searching for freedom, economic security, new leadership and lasting peace. As the balls dropped and fireworks blazed over cities and towns from New York to Sydney to London, few people found themselves longing for 2011′s halcyon days — even the traditional year-end media round-up of luminaries lost and prominent stories had a “let’s get on with it” feeling. But what is it that makes us restless to”get on with it,” the business of finding better ways for nearly 7 billion people to live and flourish in this already-old second decade of the 21st Century?
Five major issues will continue to dominate and shape global and national agendas in the months to come: Freedom. Peace. Economic Security and Prosperity. Leadership. Equal Educational Opportunity.
Freedom: Time Magazine named “The Protester” the “Person of the Year” in 2011. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and so many other countries where dictators ruled, the quest for freedom led hundreds of thousands of citizens to take to the streets to demand an end to tyranny and establishment of the form of government most likely to support human freedom — democracy. The movement spread more recently to Russia where the images of throngs protesting Vladimir Putin’s too-long reign in Moscow were startling. In the United States, where we assume freedom as our birthright, while the issues may appear different for the Tea Party and the Occupy movements, the bottom line for those and other activists is the broadly-shared desire to live in freedom with a minimum of governmental interference.
Peace: Too often, the goal of securing or maintaining freedom is a violent process drawing nations into war and citizens into horrific acts in the name of liberation. Revolutions are rarely bloodless. In the first decade of the 21st Century, the United States and its allies went to war on several fronts — Iraq, Afghanistan — to combat the terrorism that became the modern threat to freedom and peace. In the process, our troops facilitated the end of notorious tyrants, notably Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. In 2011, the video of Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi‘s capture and execution quickly became part of history’s library of iconic images of the violent fates of brutal rulers at the hands of freedom-seeking rebels.
Today, American troops are gone from Iraq, but unrest and violence continue to plague that nation in the struggle for control of its future. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan continues. Whether liberation movements in the Middle East and Russia can result in peaceful democracies is an unsettled issue. Whether fomenting freedom for China risks the stability of one of the world’s most important contemporary economic engines is a provocative question. Peace is a much harder goal than simply ending tyranny.
Economic Security and Prosperity: Paradoxically, while people want limited government in their personal lives, they want and need governments globally to fix the economy. But the solution is not that simple. In fact, major corporate leaders argue that the economy will not rebound until excessive regulation abates. On the other hand, poorly regulated banking practices led to the Great Recession of 2008 and continue to drive the world wealthy gap. Free markets may eventually correct themselves, but the damage to individuals and local economies can be severe. Meanwhile, with more and more members of the large middle class experiencing deteriorating finances, the plight of the truly impoverished people of the world is more marginalized than ever. Political candidates focus on the middle class because that’s where the votes are; pleading the case for hungry children in Anacostia or genocide’s orphans in Sudan may elicit sympathetic nods but no political willpower.
Leadership: The three big issues above — freedom, peace, prosperity — should be the primary focus of every candidate for the presidency in the United States. The world desperately needs great global thinkers in its most important offices, particularly the U.S. presidency. Sadly, however, the already-tiresome presidential campaign lacks any revelation about the real global leadership capacity of the candidates. While the maxim “all politics are local” may ring true most of the time, the citizens of the wealthiest and most well-educated nation on earth cannot indulge such narrow, isolationist thinking. Pandering to short-sighted small-minded special interests is killing the ability of America’s leadership to win the true global stature and respect that is essential to hammer out solutions for economic and defense needs.
Equal Educational Opportunity: Call me a dreamer. I’m one of those people who truly believes that education is key to economic prosperity for all, maintaining freedom while ensuring the peace. In the United States, we say that we believe in equal educational opportunity as a matter of our civic faith, but the evidence does not support our beliefs. Consider the report that came out just last week that tells us that Black children in the Washington region are two-to-five times more likely to incur severe disciplinary action compared to White children; or the report earlier in the month that revealed that the District of Columbia has the largest gap in achievement between Black and White children of any major school system in the nation, despite years of effort to improve student achievement here. While global illiteracy is an awesome challenge affecting more than 900 million of the world’s citizens, what may be even more astonishing is the fact that the United States also has millions of illiterate adults, tens of thousands of whom live right here in the nation’s capital.
What does all of this have to do with Trinity? Well, everything! Our mission demands that we educate our students with a large vision for the needs of the entire planet, not simply for their personal gain. “Education for Global Leadership” is a slogan that appears on Trinity banners, and the emphasis on civic responsibility and social leadership is clear in all of our programs. Trinity alumnae — as witnessed most recently by Ambassador Susan Burk who gave a splendid address to our December graduates — have played important roles on the world stage for generations. We expect no less of our current generations of students and young alums.
2012 looms as a year of high ambition for Trinity. The largest capital campaign in our history, ongoing planning for the new academic center and renovation of our historic facilities, expansion of academic programs especially in the health professions — these are all top priorities on our list of “resolutions” of tasks we must complete with alacrity.
But no task is more important, more resolution more prominent, than Trinity’s ongoing and continuously re-affirmed commitment to educate citizen leaders able to bring intelligence, passion and integrity to the great issues of our times. In whatever occupations our graduates will pursue, no issues will be more important for them to embrace than the cause of freedom, the imperative of peace, the relentless pursuit of equality and justice for all people in economic and educational opportunity.
Happy New Year!