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Craig Steven Wilder

Craig Steven Wilder

“Institutions that promote the pursuit of truth and knowledge need to be honest about themselves,” Professor Craig Steven Wilder told students. Professor Wilder, an MIT history faculty member and author, was this year’s Heyburn Lecturer. In researching and writing his latest book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, Professor Wilder revealed nearly universal connections between the earliest American educational institutions and slavery. Professor Wilder received his bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, and a master’s, master of philosophy and Ph.D. from Columbia. In addition to Ebony and Ivy, he is the author of A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn; and In the Company of Black Men: The African Influence on African American Culture in New York City. His has written essays for Slavery’s Capitalism and wrote the inaugural essay in the digital journal New York History. In 2004, Columbia University awarded Professor Wilder the University Medal for Excellence during its 250th Anniversary Commencement.

“The most important decision you make as a student is not about the history of the institution but the fit between your personality and the institution. Your decision is a personal, three-dimensional one, and not some grand statement about American history. The way it’s going to make the greatest impact is if you thrive in that institution.”

Irene Li ’08

Focusing on two goals—creating a better place to work, and a better way to source food—Irene Li shared her mission for responsibility operating her popular Boston restaurant. Irene owns the Mei Mei Street Kitchen and Restaurant, where she balances environmentally sound kitchen practices, the use of fresh, local ingredients, and ethical labor practices. Irene has collected accolades from publications such as Eater, Bon Appetit, Boston Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and was named a semifinalist by the James Beard Foundation in its Rising Star Chef of the Year awards for three years in a row. In 2017, Zagat named her one of its “30 Under 30.” Mei Mei began as a food truck in 2012, then as a restaurant in 2013, and includes a successful catering business as well as its own line of sauces for retail sale.

“I’m not a church-going person, but I imagine that people who go to church feel the way I felt about going to the farmer’s market every weekend.”

Kedra Ishop

The differences we bring to institutions strengthen those institutions and our relationships within them, says Dr. Kedra Ishop, the vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Speaker, Dr. Ishop reviewed legal battles for racial and ethnic inclusion in higher education, from Plessy v. Ferguson, a 19th-century Supreme Court case that ruled public institutions may be “separate but equal,” to modern legal challenges to university admissions processes. Dr. Ishop serves on multiple national and international committees and advisory boards related to university diversity, affordability, assessment, admissions and enrollment. She holds three degrees from the University of Texas-Austin, where she began her career in admissions: a B.A. in sociology, a master of education in higher education administration, and a Ph.D. in educational administration.

“Who you are matters. The color of your skin matters, your economic background matters, your sexual identity matters, your political affiliation matters, and we should do our work to try to craft the diverse environments we are seeking. We are no longer using these things to keep people out, but to bring them in.”

Richard F. Johnson

Veterans Day speaker, Army Brig. Gen. Richard F. Johnson P ’19, encouraged students to ask themselves two questions: “What inspiration can I draw from the service of veterans?” and “How will I serve?” Brig. Gen. Johnson is the Land Component Commander, Massachusetts Army National Guard. He is responsible for training, readiness, and force development for a formation of over 6,000 soldiers, and serves as a Joint Task Force Commander and Contingency Dual Status Commander in domestic security and natural disaster response operations. He is a highly decorated veteran of four combat deployments: as a platoon leader in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, company commander in Afghanistan in 2009–10, and as a senior combat advisor with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2012–13. Brig. Gen. Johnson is a senior executive fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He completed the National Security Management Fellowship at Syracuse University and holds graduate degrees in criminal justice and public affairs from the University of Massachusetts, and he was a national security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“In a world that’s fraught with peril and those that would do harm, your veterans have been the guardians of freedom and the protectors of peace and humanity. Celebrate their service and sacrifice by making your own contribution. Find your future, decide how you will serve, and pay the best tribute that you can to those who have served you.”

Hakeem Rahim

Mental health advocate and spoken-word artist Hakeem Rahim, this year’s Talbot Speaker, shared his story as part of a presentation to destigmatize mental illness, encourage students to reach out when they’re hurting, and to be supportive friends when someone they know needs help. Mr. Rahim received a psychology degree from Harvard and later received a dual master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. In 2012, Mr. Rahim began openly sharing his journey with mental illness. He has testified in front of the House of Representatives and Senate, and has shared his story with over 60,000 students. In 2016, he launched the I Am Acceptance College Tour Campaign. He is a TEDx speaker and a member of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s national board. Mr. Rahim is the President and CEO of I Am Acceptance Inc, a nonprofit committed to building a platform based on values of community, wellness, and acceptance. He is also the founder and CEO of Live Breathe, LLC.

“Many people are suffering in silence, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s OK to talk about mental illness. There is no shame in seeking treatment, and a diagnosis is not
the end.”

Ron Smith

In works that explore the intersection of ubiquitous moments in history and intimate, personal narrative, poet and Bingham Visiting Writer Ron Smith asks, “What is my place and what keeps me in it?” A native of Savannah, Georgia, Mr. Smith is the author of Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery, Moon Road, Its Ghostly Workshop and The Humility of the Brutes. A distinguished poet and critic, his work has appeared in many periodicals, including The Nation, Kenyon Review, New England Review and The Georgia Review, as well as several anthologies. He holds degrees from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, and has studied at Bennington College, Worcester College at Oxford University and the Ezra Pound Center for Literature in Merano, Italy. Mr. Smith was selected as an inaugural winner of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize in 2005, and now serves as a curator for the prize, and he was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2014–2016. He teaches at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia and as an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond.

“The number-one job of any writer, in any genre, is to tell the truth.”

Robert Trestan

Young people have the power to stem the tide of anti-Semitism and other hateful incidents, said Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston Office. Mr. Trestan spoke to Class II students at the invitation of the Jewish Student Union. Prior to joining the ADL, Mr. Trestan served for more than a decade as director of civil rights at the Boston Housing Authority and previously worked as an assistant public defender in Naples, Florida. He received his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law and his bachelor’s degree from Trent University.

“The most powerful thing you have is your voice. Speak out. If you do it collectively, you can make a huge difference.”

Sarah Lewis

“The arts are not just ephemeral,” says Harvard Professor Sarah Lewis. “They carry real weight in the real world.” Professor Lewis was the Margaret A. Johnson Speaker this year. An assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Art and Architecture and the Department of African and African American Studies, Professor Lewis works at the nexus of visual representation, racial inequity and social justice. Professor Lewis is the guest editor of the landmark “Vision & Justice” issue of Aperture, now required reading for all incoming freshman at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery. She has been the keynote speaker at a range of events and institutions, including TED, SXSW, the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Federal Reserve Bank.

“Arts and imagery model for all of us what we can become. We can’t become what we can’t imagine.”

Rodney Glasgow

Rodney Glasgow

A noted educator, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and equity, Rodney Glasgow visited campus to work with students, faculty, staff and administrators on issues of race and identity this spring. Milton’s administration engaged Mr. Glasgow in response to events in which many Upper School students demonstrated through peaceful sit-ins—a result of rising tensions and incidents of what students viewed as insufficient disciplinary response. Chair of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute, Mr. Glasgow has a long and distinguished career in this work. He serves today as chief diversity officer and head of middle school at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland. Mr. Glasgow earned degrees in Afro-American studies and psychology at Harvard University and holds a master of arts in organization and leadership from Columbia. He is an independent-school alum, having graduated from Gilman School. He is also president of The Glasgow Group, a consortium of dynamic and innovative consultants.

“The privilege of being in this community is that you can make the community what you want it to be.”

Annie Jean-Baptiste ’06

Annie Jean-Baptiste ’06, diversity programs manager for Google’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Team, works to diversify the next generation of technology professionals and promote inclusion programs among the tech giant’s 60,000 employees. She returned to Milton as the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker, asking students to honor other people’s perspectives, and sharing her beliefs about what people can do to be more inclusive and follow the life and lessons of Dr. King. Students have the power to effect change when they check their privilege, love harder, take risks, break rules, experience discomfort, and take an empathetic approach to disagreement, Annie says.

“At Google we talk about ‘building for all,’ and in order to do that, people with different perspectives and backgrounds need to be at the table, with equal agency to voice opinions and get things done. Research shows that teams with more diversity and deeper inclusion are more innovative and successful. We can extend that to Milton—we need the diversity of experience and backgrounds to foster the creativity and genius that Milton is known for.”

Kimberly Cheng

All history is global history, says Kimberly Cheng, this year’s Hong Kong Distinguished Speaker. Ms. Cheng presented an overview of her research on Jewish refugees living in China during World War II, explaining the confluence of world events that led 20,000 migrants to flee persecution in Europe. Ms. Cheng is a doctoral student in the joint Ph.D. program in Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History at New York University. She was a Penn Teaching Fellow in the history and social sciences department at Milton. She has also previously worked at the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography in New York City and the archives at the History Center of Tompkins County in Ithaca, New York. She holds a Master’s of the Science of Education from the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Cornell University in history, Jewish studies, and German studies.

“The study of German Jewish refugees in Shanghai teaches us that history is always global, always transnational. We tend to isolate studies of history, but we cannot think of it as bound by national borders, nor can we think of current events that way.”

Chris Waddell

Thirteen-time Paralympic medalist and monoskiing world champion Chris Waddell asked Upper and Middle School students to shift their perspectives of people with disabilities and to push beyond the limits of the labels placed on them. Mr. Waddell became the first paraplegic person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. He wants his climb, along with his One Revolution Foundation, to improve visibility and opportunities for people with disabilities. Mr. Waddell was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Paralympics Hall of Fame. The Dalai Lama honored him as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion.” People Magazine named him one of the “Fifty Most Beautiful People in the World.” Skiing Magazine placed him among the “25 Greatest Skiers in North America.” Middlebury College presented him with a Doctorate in Humane Letters. National Public Radio (NPR) named his 2011 commencement address to Middlebury as one of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.”

“Not being able to walk was the worst thing that I could imagine happening, but it was also the most powerful thing that ever happened to me, because I had to get better. I always had to find some sort of solution to every problem.”

Jamaica Kincaid

Speaking with students as the spring’s Bingham Visiting Writer, award-winning author Jamaica Kincaid urged young writers to throw off the restraints of convention. During her time on campus, which coincided with International Women’s Day, Ms. Kincaid reflected on her career and on womanhood. Born in Antigua, Ms. Kincaid came to the United States at age 16. In her first writing job at the teen magazine Ingénue, Ms. Kincaid interviewed Gloria Steinem about her teenage years. Soon, she joined the staff of The New Yorker. Her works of fiction frequently examine topics of race, gender and sexuality, and colonialism, along with complicated mother-daughter relationships. Ms. Kincaid is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and she teaches at Harvard. Her works include At the Bottom of the RiverAnnie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, and Mr. Potter. See Now Then, her most recent novel, won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 2014.

“When I first came to America, feminism was a topic of great debate. I don’t know why it was resisted. I don’t know why we have to make the case for ourselves.”

Cindy Pierce

Knowing and being consistently yourself—in private and in public—is the key to making healthy choices, says Cindy Pierce, this year’s Margo Johnson Endowed Speaker. Ms. Pierce, a social sexuality educator and comic storyteller, discussed the pressures that come with “hookup culture” on high school and college campuses, telling students they have the power to set boundaries and build healthy relationships that fit their lives, instead of focusing on meeting external expectations. Ms. Pierce is the author of Sex, College and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup CultureSexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World; and the coauthor of Finding the Doorbell: Sexual Satisfaction for the Long Haul.

“A lot of young people are using social media to present a view of themselves that isn’t real, just to feel like they’re enough. In a lot of cases, it’s not cruelty or outright bullying that makes for a negative social media experience. It’s a low-grade, constant reminder of what you could be, should be, or would be.”


Alumni who must find and declare the truth as their life’s work live in rigorous times. What is the impact on their work, and on their persons, when public voices dismissively declare that the truth is fake, or that an alternate reality is true? We asked alumni who mine for the truth in different domains: How hard it is to find the truth? How difficult is it to know what’s real?

And in an environment of widespread mistrust, what happens to the reality they bring forward?

How vulnerable is the truth?

How illusive is the truth?

What, we wanted to know, is the daring part of “daring to be true”—finding it, declaring it, keeping it alive, making sure it matters?