Introductory Remarks by Tobias Berggruen ’18

Greetings! My name is Toby Berggruen, I’m a junior at Saint Ann’s, and I’m so delighted and humbled to welcome you here this evening!

Last night, at around 10:30, I sat down to draft these remarks. I was only at the beginning of what we go to be a long night of homework and SAT studying. Unsure of  how to begin I wrote, erased, then wrote again. Worried that my words might seem obvious, hackneyed, trite, I deleted beginning after beginning: a vignette recounting the remarkable heterogeneity I’m privileged enough to witness each morning on the train-ride to school, a recitation of jarring statistics that were nevertheless gleaned from the internet, a clear statement of purpose and objectives for this evening. Though I ultimately eschewed these beginnings, it would be a mistake to call them false starts; all three, I think, are fitting in that each references what tonight is about–our sensitivity as individuals, a sense of global citizenship, and a commitment to direct action. All three–equally important, vital components of our shared project–seem to be parts of something bigger, primeval perhaps, extending beyond politics, or any single person, or even any particular moment in time. It seems to me that this something bigger is always there, albeit not always manifest, in vast, innumerable iterations: a capacity for kindness, imperfection, love, compassion, humility, resilience–and a realization of the sacredness inherent to the project of life itself. It’s something shared by us all, a sense of humanity that has the potential to make differences a source of celebration, rooted in the recognition that each human contains beauty.

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Now this observation may seem too obvious, too lofty, perhaps overly abstract–an unnecessary distraction from the issues we seek to address. That very objection, I think, gets to the heart of my point. We might not always see eye-to-eye, our tastes might differ, and our views might clash. What then? A profusion of ideas, perspectives, and midnight musings speak powerfully to what we must hold sacred: the humanity that unites us all, and the capacity of humanity to bring about beauty and good no matter our circumstances.

Tonight, I hope, will reflect these ideals powerfully. A number of different communities, each containing its own multitudes, will get to know one another–together we will create art and share a meal, and exchange ideas with smiles. We will engage critically, fueled by a recognition that assumptions are to be scrutinized, that our tasks are vast but shared among many. We will hear from panelists, activists our own age, an immigration attorney, and ourselves. Which leads me to my last point. Tonight, amazing tonight, is, at the end of the day, one episode in a lifetime of significant episodes. Later this evening, when Brooklyn in Solidarity concludes, I have no doubt that we will leave feeling proud, empowered, informed. Yet issues of inequality will persist–we will have new tools with which to tackle them, but they will remain. So let us remind ourselves that the essence of youth–one of our greatest assets–is what a hero of mine has called “a sane, strong, aggressive spirit of daring and doing,” a recognition that we are by nature restless, and the future uncertain. We will add to our map of the world tonight, detail–awash with color–though ultimately, our map will remain unfinished, beckoning for more.

I’d like to end by thanking all of you, for being here, and especially those who helped, in some way or another, to bring this event about. Thank you!

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