An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Belanich Family Lecture on Ethics and Politics speaker General John F. Kelly joined the Lakeside community on Wednesday, Feb. 5, to discuss the distinction between governance and politics and the impact it can have on organizations around the world. The Belanich Family Lecture supports a lecture or debate on political, ethical, or philosophical subjects, with the intent of promoting open discussion and a robust exchange of ideas. Speakers in this series have included prominent political columnists and strategists, historians, former politicians, and former White House officials.

Kelly began his visit with Spanish 4 students, who have focused on immigration, particularly in Latin America, in their course this year. Students conducted research beforehand and prepared questions on immigration and other issues. Spanish teacher Debby Heath shared, “Students asked about the future of democracy in our country and Kelly’s message was this: A strong, involved and informed electorate is key. He encouraged students to always view issues from both sides politically as they come to their own conclusions.” 

Speaking at Upper School assembly, Kelly started with two common questions: How did he get into the Marines, and how did he get into the White House? Sharing his experience being drafted and his rise through the military, he reflected on the apolitical nature of the armed forces but noted it “is not unusual for senior military officials to get involved in an administration.” His sense of duty brought him to the White House, where he hoped he was tapped for his Latin American experience. Once in Washington D.C., he was disheartened by the “serious problems in our country not being addressed by our government.”

Listing what he considers the most serious problems facing the nation, including healthcare, illegal drug consumption, crumbling infrastructure, and foreign policy, Kelly lamented how politics and the election cycle hinder long-term vision and compromise. He spoke of the importance of governance following an election, and how a president “needs to have the best information… and needs experts who are able to speak truth to power.”

Kelly then took questions from students, who asked about U.S. intervention in the Middle East, treatment and care of immigrants at the southern border, climate change, and how best to fix the drug problem in the U.S. When asked his greatest regret from his time in the Trump administration, he responded, “I regret that I left. I feel as though I let people down.”

Following assembly, Kelly met with American Studies students in an open Q&A to continue his dialogue with students. Junior Belle P. reflected, “It was interesting to hear from a military general. It was a unique perspective that we don’t often get at Lakeside.”

In the evening, Kelly spoke to a packed crowd, with some watching from overflow space in Kent Evans. He relayed student questions and answers, before responding to a series of questions about immigration, refugees, and asylum. A recording of the evening lecture is available here.

The Lakeside Lecture Series brings speakers from diverse backgrounds to expose students to differing perspectives on a range of topics. Our goal is to foster open and inclusive dialogue with the goal of students learning about the world and about each other. The next lecture in the series features author Min Jin Lee. Learn more and RSVP here.