Photograph by Allie
Dear Mr. President,
Last week, I watched over six hundred high school seniors graduate. Along with a little bit of fear at the world they’re entering, a world facing climate change and a growing surge of anti-democratic sentiment in countless nations, I felt tremendous pride. I was, and am, proud of what they’ve accomplished. I am proud of how much they’ve learned. I am proud of the work they did discovering and pursuing their passions. I am proud of the empathetic, caring, creative individuals they have shown themselves to be. And I am proud of the commitment, intelligence, and professionalism of my colleagues in education, those who have dedicated themselves to teaching, at the highest standards, successive generations of students.
Here’s what I’m wondering, though: what are you proud of? As so many schools across the country celebrate elementary school, high school, and university graduations, what is the President of the United States proud of?
I’m not asking what you’ve survived, politically, or what you reacted to on Twitter at three in the morning, but, rather, what are you proud of? When you look at your campaign and your presidency, how much can you claim as a source of pride?
If you’re proud that you’re president, are you also proud that your grandchildren will see you on a screen arguing that you can sexually assault women with impunity? Will you be proud if one of your grandsons assaults a woman in a similar fashion, fully believing that he has a right to her body merely because he’s rich or famous?
If you’re proud of your own education, are you also proud that the university you started was sued for fraud and had to settle out of court for 25 million dollars? Are you proud of the message that sends future generations about the value of higher education?
If you’re proud of our nation’s public schools and the equal access to education they provide, are you also proud that the woman you chose for Secretary of Education will not commit to withholding federal money from private schools that discriminate?
If you’re proud of your time in office so far, are you also proud that during that time, almost two thousand children and teens in this country were killed or injured by guns?
If you’re proud of your ability to run large organizations, are you also proud that your leadership style is driving talented, experienced people out of the very government they’ve committed their lives to serving?
These are not idle questions I ask of you. I mean each one sincerely. Every year, I ask my students to seek out opportunities for genuine accomplishment and to reflect on those accomplishments with pride. I encourage them, as they graduate, to consider what it is that they’re truly proud of in their lives. I extend to you the same advice and the same question, in all seriousness: what are you proud of?
I await your answer.