Collegiate was honored to have Jeffrey L. Orridge ’78 as our speaker at Winter Convocation. Mr. Orridge is COO of Right to Play—a global humanitarian organization that provides equipment and other recreational materials to children in areas ravaged by war, poverty, or natural disaster. Our Winter Convocation is traditionally devoted to issues of social justice and equity—in honor of the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.—and marks the beginning of a new term and a new year.
Martin Luther King’s question and challenge: “What are you doing for others?” was most pertinent as Chaplain Maxwell Grant, Headmaster Lee Levison, and Mr. Orridge all spoke of the earthquake in Haiti and the continuing needs and suffering of the people of that island nation. Headmaster Levison asked us to use the long weekend to think about both our personal responses and what Collegiate’s response should be to the Haitian disaster. Dr. Levison reminded us of King’s great insight and statement: “everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
Introduced by Paul Ahn of the Class of 2010, Jeffrey Orridge discussed the ethos and values of Collegiate—our shared commitment to service, our firm ethical foundation, our compassion, our strong personal bonds, our sense of community. He also reflected on his time at Collegiate and its continuing influence on him. In the last three decades, the world has change immeasurably—what he learned and lived at Collegiate has stood him in good stead. He reiterated the question: “What are you doing for others?” and challenged our young men to use their opportunities and education to make a difference to the peoples of the world.
As always, music was an important part of Convocation; pianist Daniel Sacks ’13 gave a masterful performance of “Polichinelle in A major, Op. 3, No. 4” by Rackmaninoff.
The complete text of Mr. Orridge’s speech follows below:
Dr. Levison, Reverend, Distinguished Faculty and Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen, classmates, my fellow students…
(Yes every time I return to Collegiate, one of my former teachers makes me feel like I am still in school!)
I am both honored and humbled to have been invited to join you today to share in the Winter Convocation on the auspicious occasion of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I feel exceptionally blessed to be here among such a talented group of young men, your extraordinary faculty and staff, and all those who support us today in body and in spirit.
So many things are familiar… I see Big Nick’s Pizza and Burger Joints, La Caridad on still on Broadway.
This podium is very familiar. I have been speaking behind it so many times before… as I accepted the Head Boy award,in my DREAMS! Since David Duchovny was in my class, I gave up on that aspiration in the 10th grade! :)
I even see a few of the faculty who taught me, Socrates,Plato.
To be clear, they didn’t teach me Socrates and Plato… they actually taught Socrates, Plato and me! (VERY tenured faculty at Collegiate) ?
Even though the facilities have expanded and improved , the RED door is in the exact same place I remember it;
You have continued the winning tradition in athletics…I was part of a basketball team here that had a record of 26-2 and 27-1. I guess that doesn’t even compare to recent successes… winning the State?! Twice!! Congratulations!
But , today I am also reminded of some things that have changed since I attended Collegiate…
Things that many thought were virtually impossible when I was in school here …
We now have a National Holiday recognizing Dr. King’s contribution to the world… a man who helped to raise social consciousness , elevate morality, engender peace, and spread love throughout an entire nation… all this without the internet!
We now have a President, as well as a Supreme Court Justice, and a Governor of the State of New York, who are all of African descent.
We now have all Americans enjoying the legal right NOT to be excluded from public institutions, be denied access to services or education, based solely on ethnic origin.
There is now the legal right for persons of different races to be married to each other in all fifty States.
On the global stage, Apartied ended in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president of the same nation that had imprisoned him for longer than most of you have had birthdays.
These are just a few of the countless examples of change, since I first attended Collegiate.
Today, I am also reminded of some things that haven’t changed, that are seemingly inexorable.
The spirit that seems to connect each of us as members of the Collegiate community. Similar goals and aspirations, shared successes and challenges, and common fears and uncertainties… a those experiences with which we can all relate may be what brings us together,
but I believe it is our shared sense of humanity and values that binds us together.
Today, I am reminded of relationships…
Like the relationship between the principles of fairness and equity espoused by Dr. King and those same principals enacted by Collegiate.
Today, I am reminded of Dr. King’s impact on equal access and equal opportunity and how Collegiate has always endeavored to create a safe space for all students to excel.
Today, I am reminded of Collegiate’s long standing tradition of encouraging diversity in background and in thought, fostering brotherhood and respect, inspiring excellence and providing opportunity to talented young men, regardless of circumstance.
Today I am reminded of how values create a culture, and a culture forges a character , and character creates positive change in society. Collegiate develops character.
Dr. King once said, “ Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education”.
It is worth remarking that Collegiate is indeed a rarified environment, where there is no paucity of privilege….opportunity abounds. A place where we have the freedom to define our own measures of success.
Please do not misunderstand me. It is not easy being a student here, I know. This is an intense and rigorous academic environment, highly competitive in all aspects . There are expectations you may have of yourself and expectations of you by others… and assumptions of who you are, how you should act, and what you should be doing with your life.
But, it can also be easy to take things for granted, because so much is given to us and we live in abundance. We can mistakenly begin to think…”it’s all about me.”
I believe, with the incredible opportunities granted to each of us, we have a responsibility, an obligation to do something for others, because it is NEVER just… “all about me”.
Remember, “To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected”…OPPORTUNITY and OBLIGATION are intertwined.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”” This question is as poignant today as it was more than 40 years ago.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR OTHERS?
People have asked me from time to time, how did I, a boy from Queens, get to Collegiate?
(1 bus, 3 trains, and short walk on Broadway) ?
The truth of the matter is that my brother-in-law, Kin Preston, was an executive at the Henry Street Settlement, one of the first settlement houses founded in the U.S. It provided assistance services, particularly health care, for immigrants and the poor. It continues to deliver a wide range of social services and arts programming to more than 50,000 New Yorkers each year.
As part of its tradition of community service, several Collegiate students volunteered at Henry Street. My brother-in-law was so impressed with the young men he met from Collegiate, he told my parents about the school and suggested I apply. So I am indebted to my brother-in-law for not only marrying my bossing, older sister Valerie and getting her out of my hair, but also introducing me to Collegiate. Believe me, I am still trying to find ways to repay him! Not quite certain of what I owe him for most! :)
It was my parents, placing a premium on education and wanting to provide me with the best available opportunities, who made considerable personal and financial sacrifices to ensure I could attend. My mother, the other “Jackie O.” in the Class of ’78, was a registered nurse and would volunteer to teach baby care classes here for Middle school boys. She has stayed involved with Collegiate and has been volunteering in various capacities ever since.
I have been surrounded by people, family, and an institution who give back. I guess my point is that had it not been for Collegiate’s commitment to community service, taking responsibility in doing for others, the love and support of others, guidance by incredible faculty…. my life would be very different. So I know …”it’s not all about me”!
The travel time from my house in Queens to Collegiate was approximately 63 minutes, a relatively short time to get to an “world of opportunities”.
Throughout my career, most of my job titles have included … “worldwide this”,” global that” or “international something or other,” so I have done a fair bit of travel.
I am presently the Chief Operating Officer at Right To Play, a global humanitarian organization that has a presence in 30 countries( so you can imagine what that means for my frequent flyer account!)
I live in Toronto now , where the organization is headquartered, so when Dr. Levison asked if I was available to come speak at Collegiate, I was of course ecstatic… travel time was a familiar 63 minutes , and best of all, I didn’t have to change planes! Yes!!
No matter how many times I get on a plane and no matter where the destination, I always hear the same instructions when the cabin doors are closing.
What is the first thing the crew asks you to do?
“Buckle your seat belt,” right?
Why? Because you are about to take off.
You see, because any time you are in motion and gaining speed, there is bound to be vibration before the initial lift. When you get to the “cruising altitude” you can unbuckle your seat belt, walk around the cabin, stretch your legs, and even relieve yourself.
That is, until you are about to ascend to the next level, then you have to again fasten your seat belt , because there is probability going to be more turbulence as you go higher. So you see, going forward, making progress, and getting to that next level requires you to fasten your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual seat belt all stages of life, especially when an Opportunity presents itself.
Things don’t change all that much when you complete your academic career.
Life is a series of assignments, tests, applications and decisions…and OPPORTUNITIES.
The reality is, that we have all been blessed with an incredible opportunity to significantly impact not only our own lives, but also the lives of others.
“What are you doing for OTHERS?”
You may have heard the expression “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”.
“What are you doing for others?”
There is no question in my mind (as well as in the minds of many of my friends), that I have had some of the coolest jobs on the planet.!
At USA Basketball, I had the “dream job” with the “Dream Team” ( legends like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson), I ran sports marketing at Reebok, Warner Bros Sports, and Mattel’s consumer products.
I was paid to go to the Superbowl, NBA basketball games, the Olympics, work with superstar athletes, drive Hot Wheels cars … and if that wasn’t enough to fulfill my pre-adolescent male dreams, I even got a job playing with Barbie! ?
I can honestly say that none of my previous positions at those global sports and entertainment companies compare with the organization I work with today.
Right To Play, operates in 23 countries, working with kids primarily 2-16 years old, in some of the most disadvantaged communities on the planet. We are in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
The organization develops curricula that focuses on basic education and child development, health, peace and conflict resolution, and community building… all this through sports and playing games. How cool is that?! There are over 400 world class athletes, primarily Olympians, from over 40 countries that support RTP, many of whom are local volunteer coaches and teachers that implement the programs.
My first visit to the programs took place within 2 weeks after I started. I travelled to Liberia to an impoverished community called West Point. Liberia has recently emerged from a civil war.
Let me describe the conditions in a school that runs Right To Play programs…
The school was located at the basin of a raw sewage dump, the classroom was about 10x10 and held about 70 children. The roof was made of corrugated tin with gaping holes and the floor was dirt, so when it rained , the classroom turned into a muddy pit.
The kids sat on used plastic car battery cases and no one had their own books, pens or pencils.
And when it is time for the RTP programs to start, the energy and joy that erupts from these children can send a rocket into orbit.
It was Nelson Mandela who said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair”.
So aside from all the quantifiable evidence that our methodology and implementation works in developing critical life skills in children affected by war, poverty and disease, the other results are that “ children have something to do, something to love, and something to look forward to”.
They are taught teamwork, leadership, how to protect against HIV and AIDS, malaria, as well as numeracy and literacy.
The founder and president of Right To Play is a 4-Time Olympic Gold Medal speed skater from Norway, Johann Olav Koss. He is also a medical doctor with a Masters in Business Administration (Clearly an under-achiever!)
I heard this story about when Johann was a Unicef Athlete Ambassador visiting a refugee camp in East Africa. He asked a boy who the most popular person was. Instead of the young man responding with Michael Jordan or some other superstar athlete, he pointed to another boy across the way. Johann was perplexed by his answer and then asked what made this other boy so important. The boy looked at Johann as if it was a really foolish question… the boy said, “isn’t it obvious, he has a long-sleeved t-shirt, so whenever he comes around, he takes it off and ties up the sleeves, making it into a ball, so we can play! WOW!
I am told at that point, Johann made it his mission to do something for children around the world… so he founded Right To Play.
So today, almost 10 years after its start, RTP has evolved to engage almost 700,000 children in programs that instill critical life skills like self-esteem, self -confidence, teamwork, cooperation, and leadership. Things we learn here and may take for granted. Right To Play trains local volunteer teachers, coaches, and community leaders on the methodology and curriculum plans. It’s relatively low cost and results in high impact. We believe that by building knowledge and character, using sport and play as tools for development, you can change the behavior of an individual, then a community, a country, an entire society for the better.
There is a Collegiate Parent, Jacques D’Amboise , that founded the National Dance Institute that uses dance to improve lives.
Now I am not suggesting that you be the next Dr. King, Nelson Mandela , Johann Koss, or Jacques D’Amboise, BUT YOU COULD BE! ?
But what I am saying is that you all have been blessed with the Opportunity to change lives, to make an impact, whether it is one person at a time or tens of thousands. “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”.
Dr. King stood on the shoulders of many who came before him; many stood with him; and many carry on his legacy. No one does it alone.
Collegiate’s philosophy of “helping boys become independent adults and responsible citizens who lead and serve” has guided me and I know it will guide you.
Remember, that everything you do counts. You will be reminded one day that Collegiate has helped to prepare you to make a difference in another person’s life.
Thank you for your time and attention. I really enjoyed speaking with you. I would like to leave you with another short story before I go.
STORY OF THE 6-FOOT CHOPSTICKS
I once heard a story about an emperor who asked Confucius to explain the difference between Heaven and Hell. Confucius led the emperor to a place where there was a massive banquet table with an endless amount of the most delicious, delectable foods. It seemed like paradise, except for the fact that everyone there was writhing in pain and agony. They were starving.
The emperor did not understand until Confucius explained that the chopsticks they had were six feet long, so they were unable to reach their mouths in order to feed themselves.
Confucius then took the emperor to another place with the exact same banquet, copious amounts of food and still only six-foot long chopsticks. These people, however, were all full and happy. The difference was… they were all feeding each other! This was heaven.