Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall Ceremony

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia


Courtyard outside Freedom Hall
Georgetown University

Friday, December 11, 2015

            I wish to thank you all for taking the time to be here this morning—as we gather to mark the naming of Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall.

            I look forward to speaking to the significance of this day in a few moments, but first, I wish to introduce and welcome our speakers.

            Over the course of this ceremony, we will hear reflections from two members of our community who serve on the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation: Ayo Aruleba (C’17)—a junior in the College—and Haben Fecadu (F’08)—an alumnus of the School of Foreign Service. We will also hear from the chaplain in residence in Freedom Hall and our Roman Catholic Chaplain, Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J.

            I wish to thank you all again for being here, and I would like to begin by inviting Ayo to the podium.


            I wish to thank you all for gathering here this morning, as we mark the naming of Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, and the removal of the historic names from these buildings: Mulledy and McSherry.

            This is a moment for us to remember…a moment that will now become a part of our history, a history that includes the sin of slavery and the injustice of racism.  Our lives are given shape by our histories—by ideas of who we are, and where we have come from. And our communities are given shape by our histories—by the values, traditions, and memories that we inherit. History is alive for us, at every moment.

            Over one hundred and seventy years ago, people just like us lacked the moral imagination in their moment to recognize the responsibilities that we have to one another…to see the humanity and inherent dignity of all peoples.

            Their days are not unlike our days.

            Their moral failings are not unlike our own.

            What would a fully alive moral imagination enable us to see in the challenges and injustices that we are called to confront in this moment?

            Today, we mark a milestone in our efforts to make visible, and to reconcile, the role of slavery and the forced enslavement of Africans and African-Americans by our community.

            Let us not take comfort in this step. Instead, let us see this as a challenge to each of us.

            What injustices do we fail to see? When do we fail to act? Where is our own moral imagination lacking, today?

            The work to understand the history of slavery at Georgetown…to know it…to memorialize it…is a testament to the leadership of our Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, and of many across our community: our students—including members of the Black Leadership Forum; our Jesuit community; faculty; staff; and alumni who are committed to remembering, to the work reconciliation, to looking at the past to better understand our present and our own responsibilities, today…in this moment.

            As we take this step to acknowledge a failure of moral imagination—this blindness to injustice more than one hundred seventy years ago, let us ask ourselves: how can we engage our imaginations and, together, take on the work of building a stronger community: How can we find new ways to contribute to the common good—here on our campus, in this city, in this nation, in our world?

            We are just one community, but right now, every community is being asked to look deep within themselves and to find the very best of which we are capable.

            Let us find our best.

            Let us find new ways to realize what it means for Georgetown to live in accord with our deepest values.

            Perhaps one day it will be said of us: there was a moment when this community found new ways to enable our most deeply held values to come alive, and to achieve the best of which we are capable. Let us challenge ourselves to this work. Let us be witnesses to each other as we seek to understand…in this moment…ever more deeply…our responsibilities for each other.

            I wish to thank you all for being here, and I wish to thank our speakers this morning: Ayo, Haben, and Fr. Schenden, for contributing their reflections to this moment.

            I am deeply grateful to each of you, and to all that you bring to our community. As we mark these new halls with the names of Freedom and Remembrance, I hope that the spirit of today’s gathering helps to shape the history…the memory…and the future work of our University community.   

            Thank you. I’d now like to invite Fr. Greg Schenden to the podium to offer a closing prayer.