On October 7, 2017, Jonathan Fanton introduced the 2017 Induction Ceremony held at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA. The ceremony featured historical readings by Kenneth Wallach (Central National Gottesman Inc.) and Diane Wood (U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit), as well as a performance by the Boston Children’s Chorus. It also included presentations by five new members: Ursula Burns (Xerox Corporation), James P. Allison (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), Heather Gerken (Yale Law School), Jane Mayer (The New Yorker), and Gerald Chan (Morningside Group).
Let me add my warm welcome to the Class of 2017, and to your families and friends who have joined us to celebrate this special occasion.
The Academy benefits from the wise and dedicated leadership of its Officers, members of the Academy Board, Council, and Trust. As a result of their efforts, the American Academy is a thriving institution. We are grateful for all that they do, and particularly for the leadership and encouragement of the new Chair of our Board, Nancy Andrews.
I would also like to thank our previous Chair, Don Randel, for his friendship and dedication to this institution over the past four years.
The Academy was founded in 1780, during the American Revolution, by John Adams and 62 other scholar-patriots who understood that the new republic would require new institutions to gather knowledge and advance learning in service to the public good.
Adams dreamed that there would be a scholarly academy in every state. As in so many initiatives of the Revolutionary period, Massachusetts took the lead, incorporating Adams’s vision into its foundational documents.
The Massachusetts Constitution was drafted in 1780 and remains the oldest functioning written constitution in the world. Adams and his colleagues included a section called “The Encouragement of Literature, etc.”
“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties…it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them…to encourage private societies and public institutions…for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, and good humor, and all social affections and generous sentiments, among the people.”
As they were drafting the state constitution, these same leaders were drafting the Charter of the American Academy, which declares that the arts and sciences are “necessary to the wealth, peace, independence, and happiness of a people.” Taken together, these two documents make a convincing case that a thriving intellectual life is a public good, and that we are all called “to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences.”
Today, as Members of the Academy, we preserve this legacy for future generations by working together to fulfill our Charter mission. We do this through our major initiatives to advance scientific research, humanistic inquiry, education, international security, and the vitality of our civic institutions; our lectures and programming around the country; our publications including Daedalus; and our fellowship programs fostering the next generation of scholars.
In 1780, in his inaugural discourse as the first president of the Academy, James Bowdoin imagined what future generations would say about this new institution.
The Academy, he wrote,
“proceeded on fact and observation, and did not admit of any reasonings or deductions but such as clearly resulted from them. This has been the uniform practice of the society, [its] members…having been chosen from…every country, from every class and profession, without any other distinction than was dictated by the dignity of their characters, by their morality, good sense and professional abilities. [W]e find in the printed transactions of the society the best compositions on every subject…We find in [these] transactions new facts, new observations and discoveries, or old ones placed in a new light, and new deductions made from them.”
These were Bowdoin’s aspirations for the Academy, and they remain ours over 237 years later—to come together from every field and discipline, to pursue our evidence wherever it leads, to uphold the ideals of civil debate and intellectual inquiry, and to turn our collective wisdom to the challenges ahead.
And we look to you, new Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to extend and enrich our work, and to join with thousands of Fellows from around the world as we “cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people.”