Jane Goodall

Will you be an Anvil or a Hammer?

The end of the school year is always a time of mixed emotions, especially for high school graduates who look to their futures with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

At ISP, like many schools, graduation is a truly joyous occasion. Families and friend from throughout the world come to Prague to join in on the celebration. We are fortunate to hold our graduation ceremony at the grand and ornate Zofin Palace, built in the 1830’s and named after Princess Sophie (Žofie in Czech), mother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. The hall in which we hold our graduation ceremony has a rich social and musical history. Antonín Dvořák held his first concert here in 1878. Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Wagner appeared in concerts in the palace as well.  

As I do each year, I had an opportunity to address the graduates and assembled guests. The theme this year’s talk was the “educated citizen.”

As parents we often try to see the world through the eyes of our own children. As educators seeing the world through the eyes of our students is an important part of our job. I’ve wondered lately what sense our students and especially our graduates, who are about to step out into the world, make of all the news, the alerts, the tweets  and posts they constantly receive. Of course they discuss what’s happening in the world at school, in class, with teachers and with their friends and peers. But what do they make of the constant news they hear, often bad… of brutal wars, blatant corruption, senseless violence…in many cases involving kids your own age. 

I am aware that their reaction can be a tendency, with good reason, to try to tune it out, like so much annoying background noise, or simply because it can feel overwhelming. But I ask you please, don’t tune it out…because as educated citizens we all need to try to understand the world as it is and help to shape it as it should be. Furthermore, each of you, no matter where you come from or where you are going, have a responsibility to take what you have learned and will learn and use it to, as we say at ISP, to contribute responsibly to our changing world. Because truth is that no matter what you do, you will play a role, you will have an impact

John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher and economist put it this way: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

In simple terms, if we are witness to harm being caused to an individual or group, we should act and get involved in any way we can.  And because you are educated young people, the gift of your education, bestows some responsibilities on how you interact with the world.

I would like to read an excerpt from a speech delivered by John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, speaking to the class of 1963 at Vanderbilt University. His words, spoken over 50 years ago, when the civil rights movement was raging and the Vietnam War was growing, are as relevant to us today as they were during those turbulent times. The truth is that turbulent times are not limited to our era, we are not unique, the difference is when I was growing up, I had to make an effort to find out about the news of the day by reading the daily paper or listing to the radio or watching to the news on TV. Just to set the record straight, TVs did exist when I was growing up!

“You have responsibilities, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education.

If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all. For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system.

But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power — more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; Therefore the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all.

The educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. He may be a precinct worker or a president. He may give his talents at the courthouse, the state house, the White House. He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator.

I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act — to enter the lists of public service.

Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law, to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human, degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations.”

Now I am aware that Kennedy’s words were spoken within the historical context of his time, but they do carry a message for us to heed today. I urge our graduates to consider the educational opportunity you have been given and will be afforded in your future. 

I am confident that each of you have bright futures ahead of you. Each of you will take different paths in life. Ultimately each of you will make choices which will shape who you will become and how you will impact the world around you. As Anne Frank wrote

The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

What will you do with your gifts and with what you have learned and how will you take your place in the world as an educated citizen?

I leave you with the words of the great Jane Goodall who honored us with her presence last year last year at ISP

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Jane Goodall at ISP December 2016


The most important message. Dr. Jane Goodall at the International School of Prague

Jane Goodall at ISP

Jane Goodall at ISP

“We have harmed your future. If you believe that, you’re absolutely right. And you may have heard it said, ‘We haven’t inherited our planet from our parents, we’ve borrowed it from our children.’ If you’ve heard that, it’s not true. We haven’t borrowed your future, we’ve stolen it. And we’re still stealing it.

Do not believe that it’s too late. I believe there’s a window of time. I believe if we all get together and do our part that we can slow down climate change, that we can begin to restore the environment.” — Jane Goodall speaking to students at the International School of Prague

Four years ago I posted a blog about my first personal encounter with Dr. Jane Goodall during a teacher’s conference in Warsaw, Poland, In The Presence of Greatness.

It was moving to see Dr. Goodall lovingly interact with students from the American School of Warsaw, treating each child with genuine patience, kindness and care. Dr. Goodall expressed her belief, that the environmental damage our generation and previous generations have caused, could still be undone, and that we adults have an obligation to return to the next generation their rightful heritage, a pristine planet. Dr. Jane Goodall’s uplifting message, that each individual can make a difference and that our hopes for the future lie with the children of the world, reminds us of how every teacher can make a profound difference.

Dr Jane Goodall at CEESA Conference in Warsaw Photo by Matt Kollasch

Dr Goodall at CEESA Conference in Warsaw. Photo by Matt Kollasch

Since 1986, Dr. Goodall has travelled nearly 300 days a year on a perpetual world speaking tour, visiting over 30 countries just last year alone. She is a United Nations Messenger of Peace and Dame of the British Empire with innumerable awards and honors to her credit. Dr. Goodall’s work and her unique vision has been an inspiration to thousands of young people around the world. This past December, we had the honor to host Dr. Goodall at our school, the International School of Prague.

At ISP, Dr. Goodall, brought her message of environmental responsibility, the need to care for the animals of the world, as well as for each other, to all ISP community members. She of course spent most of her time with our young people, who represent the future of our planet, urging them to get involved with important causes and with her signature program Roots and Shoots. This year Roots & Shoots is celebrating its 25th anniversary, with more than 150,000 members in over 130 countries, all working on local and global service projects.

Here’s how Dr. Goodall described the Root and Shoots philosophy to our students:

“Young people themselves will decide what they want to do to make the world a better place. Each group will choose three projects, one to help people, one to help animals, and one to help the environment we all share.”

Dr. Goodall at ISP

Dr. Goodall at ISP

Below is the video of her full address to ISP students as well as answering questions from the students:

Ultimately Dr. Goodall’s message is a message of hope. Her message is that if we are not apathetic and are willing to take action, we can make a positive difference in the world.

“When hundreds and thousands and then billions are making ethical choices it does start to make a big difference. The most important message, is every single one of us makes a difference every single day.”


We look forward to supporting “Dr. Jane’s” mission which aligns with ISP’s mission, “to contribute responsibly to our changing world”, by developing a vibrant Roots and Shoots movement at ISP.