Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below remarks at the opening session of the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival on June 23, 2019 in Aspen, CO. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.
Welcome, everyone. I’m Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. Welcome to the fifteenth annual Aspen Ideas Festival.
It’s my great privilege to open the Festival with gratitude.
Thank you to all who have built these tents and hung these banners and warmed these environs and prepared our food.
Thank you to our organizers Kitty Boone, Killeen Brettmann, and their teams for twelve months of passion and planning.
Thank you to Team Atlantic led by David Bradley, Bob Cohn, Margaret Low, Jeff Goldberg for their vision and friendship as editorial partners.
Thank you to all of our underwriters, without whom this Festival would not exist.
Thank you to the Aspen Institute’s second founder, the great Walter Isaacson, and his wife Cathy, here today.
One of the best parts of the Festival is the array of curious, dynamic, high-striving young leaders who we recruit to take part.
Just last night I met with a group of 30 teenage superstars from the acclaimed African Leadership Academy and schools all around the U.S. Next year, they’re all going to bring the Aspen Ideas Festival to their own communities, which the group from the African Leadership Academy has done seven times. Bezos Scholars—are you here?
We’ve also brought together young journalists who defend democracy in the spirit of the late Gwen Ifill—Ifill Scholars, are you here?
And recent and advocates for educational equity, KIPP Accelerator Fellows, are you here?
Thank you, scholars—and thank you to all those who have funded our scholars—our Patron Passholders and donors, along with the Bush Foundation, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, Grupo Salinas, the Penner Family Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
And finally, thank you to our speakers and moderators, so committed to engaged dialogue on the critical issues of the day.
For example, I can’t wait to hear from the pathbreaking author of the book Educated, Tara Westover, who was raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho—and went on, as she created her education, to earn a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study in England.
I can’t wait to hear from NBA athletes Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan who are breaking down stigmas as they open up and show vulnerability about mental health and emotional wellbeing.
I can’t wait to hear from two women leaders in word and deed: Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Cecile Richards, former leader of Planned Parenthood, who together with Ai-jen Poo, co-founded a new multiracial, multigeneration community of women working for gender justice and equity.
So much of the Aspen Institute is about bringing in a diversity of thought and experience. After last year’s Festival you asked us to include more conservative voices so we could have the kind of dialogue needed, but not being held, in our society. Over the next week, we will be that big tent—hosting speakers like former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tonight, and George Will, Senator Ben Sasse, and Brett Stephens—among others—later this week.
I can’t wait to hear from Alex Honnold, the first person to climb the 3,000-foot granite face of Yosemite’s El Capitan—alone and without ropes—and star of the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.
And, I can’t wait to interview two of my great role models about the Aspen ideal by scaling educational opportunity across the world: Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, and the visionary philanthropist, Jackie Bezos.
We’re all privileged to be able to gather here together at the birthplace of this extraordinary institute. Seven decades ago, in the aftermath of genocide and world war, a group of business and academic leaders came to Aspen determined to create a community dedicated to the proposition that the life of the mind can serve the life of the world.
This was our Big Bang—and its trace elements run through all of our work today: values-driven leadership, the free exchange of ideas, support for an open society, excellence in arts, the participation of the private sector in public work.
All of that lives and thrives in today’s Aspen Institute—which is very much the expression of our Founders’ enormous aspiration. Part of our responsibility as stewards of the Institute is to push ourselves to make the very biggest impacts we can toward the vision of a Good Society.
As we look into the future, let me mention just three ways that you can expect us to work with even more elevated aspiration:
First, as you’ll see later in this program when you meet four local leaders partnering with our colleague David Brooks, you can expect that we will strive still more purposefully to build networks of values-driven leaders driven to make positive change in their communities.
Second, you can expect that, in this 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement, we will do still more to bring to public notice the remarkable creative vision of Herbert Bayer, Walter Paepcke’s partner in art and design, whose masterwork—this very campus—speaks to the ability of space and place to multiply the power of the mind and complement rather than compete with the glorious natural setting in which it sits.
And third, you can expect that we will emphasize even greater collaboration within the Institute’s many parts and programs—pulling them together to make deeper impacts on key themes like inclusive economic growth in striving rural and urban communities.
We are the stewards of a bold, people-serving endeavor. The Aspen Ideas Festival speaks to that aspiration and very much serves our vision for a free, just, and equitable society.
Thank you for being here and for your support.
It is now my pleasure to introduce our first speakers of the afternoon: Lawrence Fink, Darren Walker, and John Micklethwait.