Keynote Address for Inaugural Sunday
June 24, 2001
to remark the City of Newburyport's
(the 150th year milestone of Newburyport's incorporation
as a city form government within its present bounds)
... setting the tone for the journey into New Millennium
June 24, 2001
We are all descendants of the families who celebrated the new city of Newburyport in 1851. Some of us, by blood, are the true legacy of these families. Others, by virtue of the gardens we work, the homes we care for, the streets we plow, the storefronts we open every morning, the children we teach or the offices we hold - are descendants as well.
We have all been entrusted with the noble aspirations of a new city and we are obligated to care for its landscape and its spirit with the same tenacity and thoughtfulness Newburyport's founders applied in the first days and years of Newburyport's young life.
Adlai Stevenson, in his 1952 remarks to the Democratic National Convention said, "It is often easier to fight for principles than live up to them." Each of us who celebrates today, and our neighbors who are not with us, have a duty to Newburyport to fight the great challenge of 21st century America: isolation.
Americans are retreating to their homes in record numbers. While the size of the average American family has decreased 15% since 1970, the size of the average American house over the same time period has increased 50%. Yet, our larger homes have smaller backyards. Backyards, where we talk to neighbors and entertain friends, are nearly unnecessary antiquities. We order Christmas presents on line, groceries on line, we select movies from our televisions, we telecommute and send our grandmothers electronic greeting cards.
Non-profits around the country, including long-time service clubs, report major declines in volunteerism and American adults report in survey after survey that they wish for more discretionary time away from work - to spend with family and community.
In 1851 work, family and community were virtually one. Of course, our founders had other challenges that we have replaced with conveniences, but we should envy their integrated world - for it built the Newburyport we enjoy today.
As we celebrate Newburyport's earliest days as a city, I call on each of us to recognize the duty we share for Newburyport's continued improvement and preservation. Such efforts are not the task of a few, but the obligation of each of us.
I see Newburyport from a privileged vantage point everyday - I see our collective good works and the breadth and depth of our good will. But I know, too that many of us remain separated - sleeping and eating in Newburyport, but seldom joining with neighbors and others to sustain the very fabric of what it means to live in an American community - a community where the common good is the foremost good.
Just as the times our founders faced in centuries past, the times we live in today ask that we each do our very own part to build those things which will endure - which will withstand the test of history. We are all called upon, in decisions big and small, to perform both daily and heroic acts worthy to be remembered.
What can we do that will endure? What can we each do that will withstand the test of time? We can reconstruct a park. We can ensure the strongest education of not just a single child, but of all the children of Newburyport. We can resist lazy rumor and seek out facts before we hasten to judge or diminish the efforts of others. We can be courteous, honest and fair as we make decisions that impact our neighbors.
We can volunteer, we can keep our streets and sidewalks clean. We can listen to our neighbors, our children and our parents as they explain their concerns, share their passions and stand up for their own principles. We can ask questions, we can challenge our elected officials, we can challenge each other.
We can listen to the loudest voices and we can seek out the smallest voices. We can find balance between public and private interests. We can not only fight for principles, but we can live up to them.
Newburyport is not a city to celebrate because many of its buildings have lasted the test of time with original woodwork intact, or because the river is still navigable or because our neighborhoods are quiet at night and bustling during the day.
Newburyport is a city to celebrate because the spirit of its citizens has lasted the test of time and stands with us today as we appreciate their early efforts to ensure Newburyport's common and good future. She is a city to celebrate because we stand together today to accept, joyously, our devotion to her common good for the next 150 years. I wish each of us, and the City we are together, safe passage to that next historic celebration.