Sarah Sewall's 2019 Cui Servire Award Acceptance Speech

Thank you, Temba. It is humbling, and a deep honor, to feel the school’s hand on my shoulder in this way. Yet the Cui Servire Award refracts most brightly toward the school itself.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that to whom much is given, much will be required. I don’t think that particular passage was one that my Groton formmate Alex and I taught in Sunday school to our collective passel of daughters and their friends. But I know that somewhere along the way, most likely right here around the Circle, that notion embedded itself within me. I am indebted to Groton for its role in shaping me in the crucible of the wonderful Form of ’79 that reunites here today—far older than we imagined possible, if not as wise as we had hoped.

Yet it’s a bit disconcerting to receive an honor that seems not to fit. The award feels large and heavy and shiny, like a helmet that is too big or an overly dramatic garment. That is because I think of service as demanding sacrifice, which is not how I have experienced my professional life.

I did not have to search for my passions; problems and puzzles sought my attention and captivated me. The place of violence in international politics: If we can’t eliminate the state’s reliance upon military power, how can we make it less awful? The institutionalization of prejudice, hatred, and oppression across the globe: If it remains part of the human experience, how can we expose, educate and reduce it? Today, I hope to shape the role of emerging technology in these arenas, as well as the challenges it poses for democratic governance, and even America’s place in the world. None of this could be helped. I was simply lucky or blessed to be steered toward what others might one day label a “contribution.”

Yet service comes in an infinity of forms. In our Form of 1979, I am awed by Tony’s dedication in creating an organization to bring accountability to war, awed by Trish’s work as an ER nurse, awed by Alex’s commitment to helping young children overcome developmental delays.

Perhaps more important, many of the most essential daily acts of service receive little recognition: mentoring the wayward neighborhood kid, or just keeping an eye out for him; volunteering in a homeless shelter; caring for aging parents; serving on the local school board. I am awed by every single parent raising children on his or her own, and grateful for every parent struggling to raise kind and thoughtful children in today’s world. Frankly, the very act of listening openly to those with whom we profoundly disagree is an act of service. These acts are often invisible to our collective conscience, even as they are the essential threads in the tapestry of the world we want to create.

I feel fortunate to have been shaped by a school that fuels this commitment to service, manifest not simply in what this award might recognize today but in the countless acts undertaken daily by the broader Groton community.

We have been given much. In our world, so much is required. Thank you for what you do every day toward our larger purpose.