“Education is the one field that makes all others possible.”
The words belong to President Joe Biden, who recently sent his contribution to Groton School’s presidential letter collection, which features letters going back to 1903, when President Teddy Roosevelt wrote to Endicott Peabody, accepting an invitation to speak at Prize Day.
“We have all been shaped by educators who have sparked our curiosity,” President Biden’s letter continues, “helped us find confidence, encouraged our creativity, and inspired us to build a better world.”
Headmaster Temba Maqubela read the President’s letter to Groton on March 31, during the first chapel service of spring term, after delivering a chapel talk about belonging, the focus of Groton's new strategic framework. Mr. Maqubela shared the experiences of his own family in South Africa, inspired by a recent visit to his 90-year-old father in Johannesburg over spring vacation.
“I see you,” Mr. Maqubela began. “Being seen as an individual matters just as much as being included as a collective.
“Seeing and hearing others and embracing their identity is the first step toward the genuine practice of belonging. The practice of belonging is fragile and elusive. It has to be practiced, even in places of worship.”
The headmaster then shared a history lesson about South Africa, where English and Dutch settlers fought the Xhosa people—the ethnic group to which the Maqubelas belong—seizing land and power during nine wars. “The difference between the Dutch and the English was that the English did so with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, whereas the Dutch believed that theirs was a covenant from God to civilize the natives and be their masters,” he said. “Both used the Bible, and here I am, embracing all faiths.”
Mr. Maqubela described his great-grandfather, who fought English colonists and was imprisoned, taught to read and write in prison, and released on the condition that he be an interpreter and church warden. He became a devout Christian and gave his son—the headmaster’s grandfather—an Anglicized name. But Mr. Maqubela’s father rebelled, using clan names rather than “colonial names,” and the headmaster followed suit, naming his own children from his native Xhosa.
The headmaster also described the tenuous honor of his grandfather's service on the Diocesan committee: at meetings, he was directed to sit in a grass chair rather than the whites-only leather seat, and his teacup had an X on the bottom, indicating cups for Black people, which were washed separately. “Some erroneously think exclusion started with apartheid,” Mr. Maqubela said.
He went on to urge students "to strive to be seen as your authentic selves. I hope you won't succumb to the vestiges of exclusion under the guise of tradition.
"Your teachers see you! Your peers see you." And then he surprised his listeners by adding, "President Biden sees you."
Mr. Maqubela concluded the talk by reading President Biden’s letter, which lauds Groton’s global perspective, reinforcing the message of belonging.
“Through teaching with a global perspective, Groton School is not only educating students but also shaping how they will build a better future," the President wrote. " . . . As Groton School molds the next generation of leaders, may you continue to embody the spirit of 'Cui Servire Est Regnare' by living lives of character, scholarship, and service.”
Groton School's presidential letter collection features correspondence to the school from every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt. Below, the text of President Biden's letter:
“I send my warmest greetings to the students, staff and faculty of Groton School.
Education is the one field that makes all others possible. We have all been shaped by educators who have sparked our curiosity, helped us find confidence, encouraged our creativity, and inspired us to build a better world. Through teaching with a global perspective, Groton School is not only educating students but also shaping how they will build a better future.
As the First Lady often says, any country that out-educates us will out-compete us. We have a responsibility to invest in America's students, educators, and school staff—when we do, we invest in the prosperity of our Nation. As Groton School molds the next generation of leaders, may you continue to embody the spirit of 'Cui Servire Est Regnare' by living lives of character, scholarship and service."