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Honoring Juneteenth: A Message from Interim President Bill Gilligan

Dear members of the Emerson Community,

I hope this finds you well today as our community takes pause, for the first time in our 141-year-long history, to observe Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It is a historic moment for Emerson and for the nation, as President Biden yesterday signed a new law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

I have been reflecting on the question that Dr. Sylvia Spears asked of us in her June 16 letter to the community: “I wonder how we, at Emerson, might meaningfully observe Juneteenth in light of the long arc of history in which ‘freedom is a constant struggle.’ Juneteenth is a day of remembrance for so many who sacrificed, some with their lives, to make it possible. For me, it is a day of hope that we have the individual and collective courage to continue the struggle and to resist complacency.

In the 36-plus years that I have been a part of Emerson and Emerson a part of me, I have seen this community push itself to question, challenge, and resist the ways in which our institution, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuates oppression. Today, just a few weeks into my role as your interim president, I am inspired by the possibilities of what the Emerson community can achieve together, if we—as Dr. Spears calls upon us to do—reflect, learn, and take action to liberate ourselves from the pernicious practices and beliefs that oppress Black and Brown people. 

The Irish poet Austin Clarke said, “It takes us many years to learn that the passion for justice and the welfare for all, once it has been aroused, is the deepest one in moral life.”

I wish all of you a happy, hopeful, and reflective Juneteenth.

Bill Gilligan

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