A President’s Commitment to the Common Good

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia shared the following letter with the university community at the outset of a new school year, in a trying time.

August 18, 2017

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

In the coming days, we will be opening a new academic year.  I look forward to welcoming all of you—our new and returning students, faculty, staff, and administrators—to campus.

The beginning of each academic year brings excitement and anticipation.  I always find a joyful restlessness as we find our places in this community to which we each belong and to which we each contribute.  We welcome new members.  We launch new projects and explore new opportunities.  We celebrate the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have brought us to this place.  In these moments together, we renew our commitment to the values of the Academy, to our mission, and to the work we do as a Catholic and Jesuit university.

Over the past few years our community has been deeply engaged in developing new responses to persistent issues of racial and social justice.  We have sought to address the challenge of health disparities and to promote health equity; to provide new educational opportunities and to support stronger pathways to college for first-generation and underrepresented students; to address injustice in our criminal justice system; and to better understand our history and the legacy of slavery in the United States.

This year, as we prepare to return to campus, however, we are faced with the tragic events in Charlottesville—a painful reminder of the enduring legacies of slavery and segregation in our nation, and of our obligation to reject hatred, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all ideologies and manifestations of white nationalism and white supremacy.

This moment in our nation demands the very best of each of us and all of us, and “the best” is what we should demand of ourselves.

Our universities serve our nation in singular ways.  No other institution performs the role that universities do in providing the foundation for our common life together.  We are committed to the disinterested pursuit of truth and we sustain a community that supports, in the words of Stefan Collini, “the ungovernable play of the inquiring mind.” And for Georgetown, with our Jesuit heritage, we accept the responsibility articulated by Pedro Arrupe, that “the education imparted in Jesuit schools will be equal to the demands of justice in the world.”

We need to embrace this moment and engage our imaginations in ways that enlarge and deepen our commitment to the common good, building from the work we have started and exploring new and creative ways of contributing to it.  Much is required of us.

We will not abandon our search for what is true.

We will support one another with understanding and compassion.

We must sustain our commitment to the common good.

We are a community of diversity, of extraordinary talents, intent on addressing social and racial justice.  Here we can come together to confront our doubts and fears, our frustrations and anger.  Here we can challenge one another while seeking the best in one another.  And in doing so, we can find the very best within ourselves.

The words of Pope Francis, in his first encyclical letter, Evangelii Gaudium, have particular resonance in this moment:

People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation”. [180] Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.

As we gather together in the opening days of the academic year, let us acknowledge our responsibilities to one another and as members of this community as we continue our work towards “becoming a people.”


John J. DeGioia