George Smith Sr. ’55 and George Smith Jr. ’83 have watched Andover transform first hand.
Smith Sr. arrived to campus in 1951, amid the swing of the Civil Rights Movement when there were approximately “10 students of color across all the grades.” Smith Jr. joined Phillips Academy in 1979, nearly five years after girls were first admitted to the Andover.
Smith Sr. and Smith Jr.’s Finis Origine Pendet Address this past Wednesday wove themes of diversity, Civil Rights and socialization on campus into their narratives, highlighting how Andover has evolved.
Their speeches were part of the first inaugural Finis Origine Pendet Address, where a Phillips Academy Alumnus returns to Andover as a speaker at All-School Meeting.
Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students and All-School Meeting Coordinator, said, “When [alumni] come back we want them to say how their origin at Andover was influential to where they are now in their lives. We are hoping this will provide some continuity and identity for the students show them how life turned out.”
Smith Sr. graduated from Andover in 1955 and received his law degree from Yale University in 1961.
“While at [Middle School], we learned that Thurgood Marshall was trying to get rid of racial segregation in the United States and in the schools. I wanted to become a lawyer to help him with what we thought would be an awful lot of law suits in order to accomplish that goal,” said Smith Sr.
He was also a member of the first group of Freedom Riders, groups of activists who protested segregation by riding segregated buses.
From 1980 to 1986, Smith Sr. was a Justice of the Supreme Court of New York. He also served as an associate judge of the New York court of appeals, the state’s highest court.
Smith Jr. graduated from Andover in 1983. He attended Oberlin College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He went on to write for a variety of publications—including the Wall Street Journal—and in late 1990s switched from print to television. He joined ESPN on May 2003 and has covered the Olympics in Greece, China and Vancouver.
Smith Sr. described how his teacher’s enthusiasm for Yale drew him to Andover.
“In sixth grade, my teacher told us that one of her former students had gotten into Yale University. She was so enthusiastic that I said right then and there, ‘I am going to Yale,’” said Smith Sr.
“When the opportunity to come to Andover came, I said to myself, ‘If I go to Andover I would have an easier time in getting into Yale.’”
Smith Jr. later described his challenges during the college application process.
“I am a pretty smart guy, but I wasn’t being pretty smart then. When it came to colleges I knew that the process wouldn’t be pretty, there was no chance that I would be able to go to Yale like my dad,” said Smith Jr.
“I can’t remember exactly how many rejection letters I got, but there were plenty; the process was not pretty. It was embarrassing, and it was painful.”
Both Smiths reflected on their experiences at Andover.
““When I first stepped on the Phillips Academy campus, I was about 5’ 1’’ and barely weighed 100 pounds. I had a fairly big Afro that would make any 1970s R&B group proud,” said Smith Jr.
“What I remember most about this campus, besides the beauty, was how small I was compared to everyone else. I remember feeling awkward and insecure. Socially the teenage years can be a tough time and for me it was no different,” he continued.
Smith Sr. also mentioned a time when he felt out of place on campus during the first weeks of school. A group of students had invited him to their rooms, but he felt so uncomfortable he left.
He recalled religious leaders discussing various topics during mandatory chapel, promoting a sense of diversity.
“Sometimes the Protestant Chaplin would speak, sometimes a Catholic religious leader would speak, sometimes a teacher would speak, never trying to convince anyone to become a member of this religion or the other, but to expose us to different things” he continued.
To close his speech, Smith Jr. gave advice to the Andover community about perseverance and optimism.
“For me, Andover was a rocky road, and I want to be perfectly clear that I don’t recommend anyone to take the path that I did. You should work hard and take advantage of all of the opportunities that are presented here,” said Smith Jr.
“If you are struggling in anyway, socially or academically I just want you to believe things will always get better. The sun will rise again ,and there will be a new day.”