When agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation started canvassing the Hopkins School, students and faculty must have known something was up.
Fortunately, their presence was a good sign: US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was coming to speak. On Friday, Holder spoke to a crowd of around 1,000 at the Hopkins School near New Haven’s Edgewood Park, a private, coeducational college preparatory school serving students from grades 7-12.
Holder was invited by a Hopkins parent and came as the keynote speaker of the school’s 351st convocation. Addressing students, faculty, administration and invited parents and guests, Holder recognized the school’s commitment to community and public service and called upon its students to use their education to continue that service.
“Dream of the world as you would like it to be, and then use your Hopkins training to bring that dream to life,” Holder said.
He spoke in front of the recently constructed Thompson Hall, home to Hopkins’ junior school and arts department. During his speech, Holder used historical examples related to slavery, women’s suffrage, and even the 2008 presidential election to demonstrate his statement that change is possible. Holder went back into the school’s own history to show what its students can achieve when he noted that the 33rd US Attorney General, Edward Pierrepont, was a member of the Hopkins class of 1833.
Raquel Santiago-Martinez, the parent who invited Holder, said she met him in the late 1970s while watching a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants together. The two struck up a friendship that has lasted ever since. Santiago-Martinez said that she had invited Holder to last year’s convocation, but the Attorney General was unable to attend.
“He’s still the same person,” said Santiago-Martinez. “He’s never let his progression in his professional life impact the way he treats his friends.”
Despite Holder’s ties to the school, it was not easy to get the Attorney General to New Haven. Barbara Riley ’73, the head of Hopkins School, said that Holder’s trip to Hopkins took about a year to coordinate. She added that Holder’s appearance at Hopkins, which strives to offer a global education to its students, is exactly the kind of event that the school’s mission strives to attain.
While having the Attorney General come to speak was a first on campus, Holder’s presence was not the only aspect of the spectacle that fueled the students’ excitement.
“I think [the students are] getting quite a kick out of the men in black running around campus and the sniffing dogs,” Santiago-Martinez said of the FBI agents who had preceded their boss.
Jemma Williams, the school’s associate director of communications, said that of all the expected attendees, almost all of the 685 students attended. She added that the school invited special guests and parents to attend the convocation this year.
Students, faculty and parents who attended the event praised Holder’s speech.
“I like how he said that we have a role to play in the world and that what we do with our education is up to us,” said Hopkins senior and student council president Nicole Gorton.
Riley expressed similar sentiments.
“Your words make us hopeful,” she told Holder after his address. “We will all strive to live up to the charge you have given us.”
Despite a post-speech event not being scheduled, Holder stayed after his address to greet Hopkins students and sign autographs.
Holder is the 82nd Attorney General of the United States and the first African-American to hold the position.