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A Farewell Address to Barbara Riley

Rick Kleeman '81
This speech was delivered by trustee Rick Kleeman ’81 at the Celebrate Hopkins! auction on April 30, 2016
Good evening.  My name is Rick Kleeman.  I am perhaps best known as the father of Serena Kleeman who will graduate from Hopkins this spring.  I am also a member of a loyal extended Hopkins family, that includes the Vranos’, and which has seen 8 of its members attend Hopkins and a ninth teach at the school.  I’m an alumnus myself, class of 1981, a former trustee of the school for 10 years, and, I am proud to say, a friend of Barbara Riley’s.  

For the past several years at the auction, parents have been asked to support the Parent Council Endowed Fund for Faculty.  In this same spirit, I am excited to announce that donors have come together to establish the Barbara M. Riley Fund for Faculty to honor Barbara’s extraordinary service to Hopkins.  At Barbara’s request, this fund will be utilized to support work among faculty that advances innovation in the art of teaching and continues the tradition of superior classroom instruction at Hopkins.  Parents and alumni have already contributed nearly $1.7 million to this fund, in honor of Barbara, and I would humbly ask you all to consider adding to that total this evening.  

You can do this during the paddle raise that Mike Vranos and Bruce Barber will conduct.  But before we start that, I would like to share some thoughts about Barbara.

As my friend Bill Kneisel often recounts, in April, 2002 I had the distinct honor of walking down from the Malone Science Center to Barbara’s office in Baldwin Hall to escort her back to the Edward Bouchet conference room in Malone, where the rest of the Hopkins Board was assembled and she learned for the first time of the Board’s decision to make her the permanent head of the school.  Now the truth be told, I was sent to retrieve her because I was the youngest guy in the room, a simple gopher.  But I have since embraced Bill’s highly embellished version of the role I played which symbolized the start of the Barbara Riley era.  

There is a human tendency, born of emotion and what psychologists call the “recency effect”, to overly glorify the achievements of those who served in the recent past.  This notwithstanding, it would be hard to understate the accomplishments of the 108th Head of our school.  

Barbara made history the day she began as our interim Head in 2001, the first woman Head of Hopkins, a school that had been led by white men for its first 340 years.  Her achievements over the next 15 years have been unprecedented in the school’s history.  Let’s start with some of the tangible facts.  These are many of the very metrics by which peer high schools are often evaluated and compared:
The campus has been renewed and expanded with 2 brand new buildings, Heath Commons and Thompson Hall.  Four other major renovations have occurred including the Calarco Library and the Kneisel Squash Center.  And four new athletic fields and outdoor sports venues have been created including the Smilow Field and the Parr Field.  All told, the campus has been expanded and enhanced by these beautiful buildings and facilities that together total $45 million of capital expenditures, all built with a tasteful aesthetic befitting Hopkins, all brought in on time and on budget and all completed under Barbara’s leadership.

The school enrolment has grown slowly, by design by 10% from 644 to 708. Despite the school’s slow enrolment growth, diversity at Hopkins has grown by much greater numbers.  Students of color have increased 82% from 110 to 200, and now represent 28% of the student body up from 16% when Barbara took over.  

Barbara has helped to assure a growing pool of high quality candidates for a Hopkins education with consistently over twice as many applicants as available spots.  A Hopkins education has become even more coveted, as measured by the “matriculation yield”, which measures the percentage of students who accept an offer to come to Hopkins.  During Barbara’s tenure, the matriculation yield has grown from an already lofty mid 60s level to the mid 70’s.  To put this in perspective, this is higher than 7 out of the 8 Ivy League colleges and all but 3 of the over 2,000 four year colleges in the country.

The Hopkins endowment has expanded nearly 4 fold from $27 million when Barbara took over to over $100 million today, and this includes for the first time in Hopkins’ history a healthy reserve to maintain the campus buildings and other infrastructure of approximately $8 million dollars.  This from a school that spent the first 335 years of its storied history with literally zero net endowment.  

During Barbara’s tenure, the percentage of students at Hopkins receiving national merit scholar recognition has consistently been above 40%, one of the highest levels of any high school in the country.  Standardized testing scores and college placement have remained similarly superlative.  

A champion of financial aid, Barbara has always strived to make a Hopkins education as available as possible to families of all means.  During her headship, financial aid has more than tripled from $1.2 million per year to $3.8 million per year, and the number of students receiving support has grown 40% from 102 to over 140.  

Barbara has helped to guide Hopkins from a school with decaying physical plant and a $0 net endowment, that lived essentially hand to mouth and was nearly 100% tuition based and always susceptible to the risk of economic shock, to one on solid financial footings, well prepared to maintain its leading position among the nation’s secondary schools for its next 350 years.  

She of course did not do this alone.  She had the support and partnership of folks like David Swensen who transformed the Hopkins endowment, utilizing his famous Yale model, into one of the top performing high school endowments in the country.  And Bill Kneisel, one of the best Board Heads our school has ever seen and without doubt the most successful fundraiser in the school’s history.  When you add up the campus capital improvements, the growth of the endowment and the contributions towards the schools operating budget that have come from both endowment earnings and the Annual Fund (made possible by the generous contributions from folks like the people in this room), Barbara has overseen the addition of incremental financial support to the school, from sources other than tuition, totaling $185 million.  

Barbara’s tangible quantitative achievements are truly remarkable, and yet they do not tell the full story of what she has meant to this institution and its people.  I have a simple philosophy about life.  I believe the most important things are love and human relationships.  If you are looking to make your life better and richer, it all comes down to the people you surround yourself with.  And when I look for people to surround myself with, I look for achievers with heart -- individuals who are able to accomplish great things without compromising their character.  The New York Times columnist David Brooks refers to these two sets of attributes as resume virtues and eulogy virtues.  The former are the things so many of us spend our lives trying to accumulate, but the latter are the more important attributes, the ones we will ultimately be remembered for by the people closest to us.  

Clearly the list I have given you provides a testament to Barbara’s resume virtues.  But I think the thing that sets her apart even more than these accomplishments is her passion, her love for Hopkins, its students and teachers, her grace, her humility, and her heart.  She has come to embody Hopkins and it her.  She is a living exemplar of everything we love about Hopkins, and for 15 years she has inculcated the institution with her character and her values.  She projects calm, unwavering confidence, even in times of crisis, and a conviction in what is right that can only come from those rare individuals equipped with a sharp intellect, a compassionate soul and an incorruptible moral compass.  My friend Bill Kneisel said it well in his upcoming piece for the Hopkins Magazine entitled “An ‘Only at Hopkins’ Tenure”.  In Bill’s own words:

“Hopkins is a school with heart – an academic community with mutual support, respect and a tolerance of differences – and that is the great gift of Barbara Riley.  What makes her so effective is her passion for the work.  The role as Head was what she was called to do.  It was never a stepping stone to another job or another place.  This was Barbara’s dream and our community has been the very luck beneficiary of her immense dedication to Hopkins.”

Barbara’s legacy will ultimately not be measured by the buildings she has overseen, the financial strength she has helped the school achieve or any of its many academic accolades.  Her true achievement will be measured by the countless people she has touched, both directly during her tenure and indirectly, many long after she is gone --  the faculty, the parents and the students.   I consider myself remarkably fortunate that my daughter Serena and I are two of those people.  

Barbara closed her last letter to the Hopkins community in her signature erudite and humble style, by saying thank you… to us!  I want to close this toast in the same way.  Barbara, Tibi gratias ago.  Thank you.  
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