Remarks by WPU President as delivered during Wayne Township’s raising of the Pride flag on June 1, 2022.
Editor’s Note: This is a digital copy of a short speech given by Richard J. Helldober, PhD – President of William Paterson University, This takes place during the June 1, 2022 Wayne Township raising of the Pride Flag ceremony and just before the following town council meeting, where a proclamation was made by the Wayne Council, officially naming June Pride month in the Township.
Here is Helldober’s speech in its entirety:
I would like to thank the Honorable Mayor Chris Vergano and Councilwoman Fran Ritter, and others for this resolution and making Wayne the first municipality in the state to have such a recognition. A big thank you to Gus Penaranda, a proud William Paterson alum and the Executive Director of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce for all the work you are doing to advance LGBTQIA+ businesses and to tell the power of the rainbow dollar. As the first openly gay president of a public university in New Jersey, I am humbled to be here and speak to you today.
As we move into Pride Month, we are often confronted with the need to justify the celebration of our community. We are often asked why there is a need, and whether we are promoting some kind of “gay” agenda. And if so, what it is.
I would never presume to speak for the LGBTQIA+ community; you will find our opinions are as diverse as our community.
For me, the agenda is this: I want the words “created equal” and “liberty and justice for all” to mean just that.
We want all adults to be able to love whomever they love and to have the same rights as any other American citizen. We want our public schools and institutions to be just that—public. And we are part of the public. I respect everyone’s right not to be a part of that—that is your liberty and justice, too—but public education and public institutions, including government, must represent all members of the public, not just those in power.
When we hear discussions about teachers not being allowed to talk about our families, or LGBTQIA+ curriculum not being taught in schools as mandated by the state, or trans people being bullied or excluded from athletics or not being able to use the proper restrooms, those are moments when the words “created equal” or “liberty and justice for all” are merely words we memorize or recite without a true commitment to living up to them.
And yet, I am also reminded of the words “in order to form a more perfect union,” and we, as a comparatively young country, are still striving for the “more perfect union.”
We find ourselves in a time when we have become so politically, racially, and economically polarized that it is hard for us to listen to one another, let alone hear each other, in a genuine effort to understand those different from ourselves.
I recently had the great pleasure of addressing the graduates of the William Paterson Class of 2022, where I told them that they have all learned–and some have lived–on one of the most diverse university campuses in New Jersey. It is my hope that they have also learned to appreciate and respect those who look, think, or love differently than themselves. It is my hope that they have learned how to engage with those who look, think, and love differently from themselves.
And it is my hope–and I would argue it is their and our collective responsibility–that as they move out into the world and into our cities, neighborhoods and workplaces, that they will use those skills to help promote a better understanding and appreciation of “otherness” as a means of building true community.
I left them with a quote from the late author and social activist bell hooks, who was also Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College, and I think her words brilliantly capture my hope. She said: “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference, but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”
Let each of us play our part in creating and sustaining “beloved community.” Let us do it through Pride Month, which should seek to celebrate, understand, appreciate and engage members of the LGBTQIA+ community—when we often don’t see ourselves represented in the public good.
I am so grateful and appreciative of leadership in Wayne—Councilwoman Ritter, Mayor Vergano and others—for this resolution and for making Wayne the first municipality in the state to have such a recognition. Our community feels a little more equal, a little more hopeful that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just a concept, and that we are indeed part of the public and are included in the public institutions in Wayne.