Joan Cannady Countryman ’62
Honorary Degree Recipient
Introduction by President Karen Lawrence
Joan Cannady Countryman—renowned educational leader, proud Sarah Lawrence alumna ('62), and deeply valued Trustee—you "reflect the character, vitality, interests and concerns of the Sarah Lawrence community." Former Head of the Lincoln School in Rhode Island, you helped Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey launch the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, created "to brighten the future of all women" in South Africa. From Rhode Island Public Radio, to Haverford College, to the National Association of Independent Schools, institutions have sought your wise counsel on their boards. For eleven years, you have shared your extraordinary judgment and deep experience with your alma mater as Chair of the Educational Policies Committee, member of the Presidential Search Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. In recognition of your extraordinary leadership and contributions, on behalf of Sarah Lawrence College and the Board of Trustees, I confer upon you the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Prepared Remarks from Joan Cannady Countryman ’62
I am thrilled to have my work and my service to the College honored in this way.
My life in education, as a student, as a teacher, and as a school leader, was shaped in schools that were deeply influenced by the philosophy of John Dewey. And William Van Duzer Lawrence, who founded this college in honor of his wife Sarah, was profoundly influenced by John Dewey, as well.
Dewey, himself, learned from the reformer Horace Mann, who saw the success of our American democracy as dependent on universal public education—a conviction we would do well to remember today.
John Dewey said that the purpose of education was not to fill vessels with knowledge but to free seedlings to grow. And the goal was to to help create wise citizens in a free society. The purpose of a liberal arts education, the education we receive at Sarah Lawrence College, he said, is to provide the skills needed to blend intellectual rigor with passionate concern for the larger community.
The idea was that a healthy society consists of free individuals associating freely. That message led many in my generation in the 1960s—I was certainly one of them—to march right from the south lawn of Westlands, here in the spring of 1962, into poor black communities in the rural South or the urban North; to create and support organizations that promoted voting rights, quality education, public accommodations, and the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Leadership, I have learned over the years, requires three basic skills: being a listener, being willing to learn, and loving what you do.
I came to Sarah Lawrence in September 1958 from ten years of primary and secondary education in a Quaker school in Philadelphia. At Germantown Friends School I had learned the value of silence, reflection, and listening.
Here at Sarah Lawrence I learned the rest: from seminars, conference work, internships, and service I came to understand the value of learning in public. It's OK to make a mistake. From a flexible pedagogy and teachers who asked me what I cared about, I learned to find what I loved, and to do it.
So, members of the class of 2013, whatever is next for you, and wherever you choose to be, just remember to listen, learn in public, especially from your mistakes, and love what you do.