Greetings to everyone, and especially to the students.
It is such an honor for me to be here today to see Jim inaugurated as the 17th president of Dartmouth College. Now I have learned the hard way that speeches like this one are rarely remembered unless there are only one or two key points to convey. And here is mine. This morning, as Jim in his remarks brings to mind the great strengths of Dartmouth, it is my privilege to convey the great strengths of Jim Yong Kim.
These are, as we say in the clinical laboratory, TNTC -- “too numerous to count.”
The medical school professors here, they should at least have laughed politely.
Now I know that everyone here today is quite likely to say precisely the same thing. But I’d like to underline four reasons why this is so for me. The first is that Jim is my closest friend, is one that I had occasion to underline just a few days ago to the class of 2013 -- and permit me to add a special hello to the superb and lively 13s! -- but there are several more reasons.
I am going to choose three to underline.
One, Jim Kim is not only a scholar and a gentleman, as the old-school term goes, he is also a wonderful teacher. He will not be able to aver, as I do here, that he is a great teacher. That would be unseemly. But it’s important, even crucial, that the leader of this great institution be first and foremost a teacher.
What makes a good teacher? There are formal criteria, no doubt, regarding the ability to convey messages clearly and to make learning exciting. But what I learned from Jim is that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to become a teacher. Jim became my teacher in 1983, when we had just turned 24 years old. While in medical school, and later as graduate students in anthropology, we reveled in ideas and challenges. Ophelia Dahl, another veteran of that critical year, 1983, told the incoming class about our long talks over pizza or Chinese food. Together, we sought “areas of moral clarity,” which proved very difficult to identify with surety, and started to figure out what it might mean to make productive use of what Jim called “our ridiculously lavish educations.”
But we knew, even then, that lavish privilege is often built on other people’s privations. Jim knew, as was underlined yesterday in a stimulating panel discussion on leadership, that it need not be so. Jim led the way to many of these discoveries for us, for me, because he was always reading and digesting new and better ideas and mastering novel ways of seeing the world. I came to learn, from him more than anyone, the benefits of always being open to new ideas and new projects and new places. Were it not for Jim, so many of us would have been hemmed in a narrow space, stuck in ideas already mastered, laboring in a vineyard that was either shriveled or better tended by others.
Of course, many things in life are best served by constancy and decades of devotion, and it should be no surprise that Jim has been linked, as both teacher and student, to some of the same people and places for all of his adult life. Haiti and Partners in Health are two such examples. I recently thought I was pilfering a book from Jim’s library -- I have stolen many from him -- and saw that it was in fact a book he had given me twenty years ago. The study, this book, then newly published, is about tuberculosis in South Africa; we have used it in our formal classroom teaching many times. I knew it was a gift from Jim because he had inscribed the book with a mixture of surgical jargon and a neologism. Inside it said, “For Paul (probably my nickname, but I am going to, since that was discussed by the freshmen in great detail, I am going to skip over that. I have to have some dignity. President Simmons and others are here, the Provost. So pretend it said Paul. But this is what it really said: one week status/post resinization, Cange, Haiti.”
Resinization: I am not sure this is a proper word, but I would like to mention its history. Some boat builders (and I have a long history of boats, which also is not the subject of my talk here today, not the one that they favor so much at Dartmouth, you know, sailing them. I look at the America’s Cup and think the only way that that could be interesting as a sport to me is if there were live cannon on board the ship. I know you’re not supposed to say things like that at Dartmouth given its heritage. Anyway, back to my speech.)
Resinization. Some boat builders use fiberglass to envelope a frame and then harden it with resin, and the idea behind Jim’s inscription was that after having visited together rural Haiti, our commitment to the fight for social justice and against extreme poverty had hardened into something virtually unbreakable.
The longstanding commitment to teaching and to cherished social goals, which Jim will lay out for you in his inaugural address, will reveal to the Dartmouth community one of the reasons that you will see gathered here today some of Jim’s teachers, some of his colleagues from across the world (from Lima, Peru, to Lesotho), and some of his students. That’s because many of these teachers and students from years past are still working with Jim. And what for a teacher could be greater than that? If Jim can bring together three generations of teachers and students, not only from Harvard and Brown but from all of the countries I’ve just mentioned and more, imagine what he can do here, at the helm of a great institution not only of higher learning, but of higher teaching. Thank you.
The baby made a noise that I heard and perhaps you did not, which I took to be approbation. That was Jim’s son.
Second point (and I’ll ask Nico to support me on this, and his brother as well): Jim Kim is truly a visionary. (Actually I’m going to quote Thomas J. Kim, so be prepared.) Jim is truly a visionary.
Again, this is something you might expect to hear at the inauguration of a president of any institution. But surely after 27 years I should be accorded an authority exceeded only by his mother, Dr. Oaksook Kim, who is of course right here today, and herself a visionary. In fact, I hope you will not mind if I ask that we applaud one of the two greatest mothers I know, Dr. Oaksook Kim.
One of the things Dr. Kim taught her children – Bill, also here, and Heidi, who you will hear in a minute, and Jim -- was to go for the big ideas. As we approach the beginning of our sixth decade on this earth, I look back at some of the things that Jim has said to me, interpretations and predictions that I sometimes resisted, and I think: yes, Jim was exactly right on that score. This proved true in many small instances and in large ones. What, Jim would ask, are the policy implications of this or that work? How can we link the grand struggle for social justice to specific endeavors that might have broader, even universal appeal? Why don’t we expand, enlarge our programs, extend them to, say, Siberia? Some people are laughing but I meant that quite literally. Why don’t we take our health care model to Lesotho, in the middle of a raging pair of epidemics and, with no resources set aside, leverage our stock of symbolic capital to help respond to these epidemics? Why don’t we work more closely with the World Health Organization and other policy-setting institutions? Help staff them? I learned the word “second” from Jim -- to send someone a second forward. Why don’t we launch -- and this is Michael, I am glad Michael Porter was so candid in saying that Jim causes him a lot of headaches so why would you want to -- is that what you said, Mike? Why would you want to see him? And yet he said he did. Another one from Jim: Why don’t we launch a case-studies series with Harvard Business School so that we can understand better what is specific to a certain setting and what are the more generalizable lessons? Why, Jim always asks, do we not have a National Institute for Health Care Delivery?
And on, and on. Or, as Thomas Kim and my oldest daughter, who are the two of them thick as thieves, say in referring to their fathers’ ideas: blah, blah, blah, blah. Thomas, my godson, could not resist saying this to me on, what was it Thursday night? He asked me, “So, Uncle Paul, what are you going to say to the freshmen?” And I told him, and he said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah. You always say that.” I will tell you, Thomas, that the class of ’13 seemed to like it a little bit more than you did.
There’s a cheesy line from the terrific movie “The Matrix,” a story around -- you know it’s really sad when the faculty laughs more at that reference than the students -- it does show that we’re getting on -- I actually gave a speech at Brown about this, Dr. Simmons, the year the movie came out, so it was a little more fresh. I have, as you can tell, crafted a couple of speeches around this already. I know this movie is kind of old-school to the hipsters who’ve just come in, the class of ’13, but bear with me. I’ll get my little cane out soon. Anyway. One of the characters, Trinity, is asked why she is so confident that something exceedingly unlikely is sure to happen. Why are you so sure, asks the star of the film, that great thespian Keanu Reeves. Because, replies Trinity, “The Oracle said it would and everything else she has predicted has come to pass.” Or something along those lines.
Oracles are too often ignored, but almost all of the things that Jim has predicted in the realm of global health have come to pass, and let that be a warning, an encouragement, to all those gathered here. Fully a quarter of a century after meeting Jim, and two decades after hearing him begin to make predictions that steered my actions, and those of many others, and that helped to build a broad-based movement for global health, I’m letting you know that your president is a visionary and predicting that he will try to move mountains, even old and familiar ones like the ridges that surround this campus, in order to respond to that little oracle in his brain.
I am looking at his brother and sister. Did I get that right?
Third, and finally, I believe that Jim’s vision matches Dartmouth’s, if I might be permitted to comment on the vision of a close friend and the stated mission of an ancient institution, at least by American standards an ancient institution.
One of the two great blots on our nation’s past is the tragedy that befell the natives of this continent. One doesn’t need to be a historian, as President Wright has taught you, and as Allan Brandt would say as well, one does not need to be a historian to understand the value of knowing your history. There are, as ever, good chapters and bad. That the original charter of this college sought to reach Native American youths with a quest for knowledge rather than coarse conquest stands as a reminder, yes, of what sociologists call the unintended consequences of social action, but it is also a reminder of the good intentions upon which this College rests.
Jim reminded us last week of President John Sloan Dickey’s aphorism, the world’s problems are your problems. Although I’ve been to Hanover many times, I’m quite sure I would not have echoed this saying so enthusiastically a year ago. After all, I work for a different institution of higher education, the name of which I need not utter here. I will say, however, that on Sunday night, I was wearing a forest-green Dartmouth t-shirt, as a gift from the ’13s and so emblazoned, and someone told me that if I continued to wear the shirt in Cambridge I might be mugged. That’s true. Someone really did say that to me.
The world’s problems are your problems. Thank God, because our beautiful world is beset by complex problems, from global pandemics to global warming to the perseverance of extreme poverty in the midst of what is termed a global financial crisis. And these problems are all linked together, in all their complexity, as Ruth Simmons said to us yesterday. We need Dartmouth students and faculty to understand and engage these problems. But here in the woods, do you really mean it? (That was meant to generate a small amount of laughter.) It would be easy to hide away in this island of privilege -- and in fact I believe that very often you should seek the solitude and reflection that reading and writing require. It is, however, a challenge. How are you going to be engaged in the problems of the world and also engaged fully in your work as students at Dartmouth? And I speak especially, again, to the incoming class.
A friend of mine, actually a friend of mine’s daughter, really, she is now a theologian, a young theologian. She went to the University of California in Santa Cruz. (People are starting to laugh already as if they know what I’m going to say.) She told me a story with some irony. She told me about what it was like to go to a demonstration about which topic I no longer remember, in the middle of the redwood forest that surrounds Santa Cruz. And the students were chanting, she told me, “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching!” Except nobody was watching, just the trees and the squirrels, and the hills.
Don’t be taken in by this bucolic setting. Dartmouth has the institution and people it needs to make an ever greater difference in this world. And this world includes New Hampshire, as the governor said, and it includes this country as well. And now you have Jim Yong Kim as your president. Truly a global man if there ever was one. Harvard and Partners in Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital give you our beloved friend and leader. He will be a great president. And I know whereof I speak. I have had a great number of students, we have had a great number of students from Dartmouth, and I have colleagues with a similar pedigree. (By the way, has the word “great” ever been uttered so many times outside of Great Britain and the Great Lakes region? I do not know.) But now let me be oracular and make a prediction: Jim Yong Kim will be the greatest president Dartmouth has ever seen, which is saying a very great deal.
I will only ask you all one favor. Take good care of Jim and Younsook and Thomas and Nico. We love them dearly and know that you will, too.
We wish you luck, and we will be with you in these exciting years to come.
Congratulations, Dartmouth, and a special congratulations to the class of ’13. Most of all, congratulations, Jim. Your friends are with you.
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