Civic Action

“The Spirit of a Group”

August 3, 2018  • Dan Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered remarks at the 25th Annual Summer Celebration Dinner in Aspen, Colorado. 

Good evening, everyone. It is a great joy to be with you tonight. My thanks to all who planned, prepared, and served this meal; to our generous co-chairs of tonight’s celebration, the Pritzkers and the Aronins; and to our honoree, Jamie Dimon.

It has been exhilarating and inspiring take part in so much important work this summer. The Aspen Institute is a force for good in communities near and far; convening thinkers and leaders; bringing into contact the very best ideas; framing and helping to solve the great difficulties of the day; confronting challenges from which others turn away; investing in leaders of every type; and always ensuring that questions of ethics and values and meaning have a prominent place in our conversations and our society.

Every summer since 1949, thinkers and leaders have convened on these very grounds called forward by Walter Paepcke or Walter Isaacson, brought together by Elizabeth Paepcke or Madeleine Albright or Condoleezza Rice, in a spirit of excellence and service. The questions we pose here are profound:

  • How do we promote and protect the greatness in our country and cultures and global community?
  • How do we make sense of the exponential rate of change in today’s society and use that knowledge to inform the responsibilities we have for the world coming into being?
  • How do we bring together people from all walks of life and bridge the supposed divides of birth and background and point of view to re-weave the bonds of community and rebuild trust in our institutions?
  • How do we act on what we hear and learn, putting our minds and bodies in motion to make this a more perfect union and a more perfect world?

These are not questions for one time but for all-time, and we support this iconic American institution because we understand that developing and defending civilization requires the work we do uniquely here. The Aspen Institute is absolutely distinct among the pre-eminent organs of civic society.

And, yes, we have much more work to do—and with that, so much to celebrate:

I would like to recognize the service and generosity of each one of you, and the living, growing contributions to the collective wellbeing that all of you help foster, from the McNulty and Braddock Scholars to the Henry Crown Fellows, and from the Resnick Aspen Action Forum to the McCloskey Speaker Series and Hurst Seminars and Lecture Series, and so much more.

You’ve done so much—not solo, but together—as a community that believes in the Aspen Idea and the Aspen Institute. Dr. King called this a “beloved community.” One of our founders, Herbert Bayer, described the more we make together this way: “There was a unifying air—the spirit of a group, making each member an active part in the exploration of the new. Friction of thought against thought, or harmony of ideas inspired the individual. Group spirit carried feeling and thinking, living and working.”

I know this evening, looking at the faces in this room and reflecting upon the many instruments for change-making that we have together, that when it comes to making a difference, the greatest days of the Aspen Institute are still before us. Thank you for making that possible.

It is now my great privilege to introduce our Board Chairman, Jim Crown. Jim is an unparalleled business leader who, with his wife Paula and their family, has also given his time, resources, and expertise to strengthen many of the greatest people-serving institutions in the country. It is a pleasure to be mentored by Jim and to work together. Given his goodness and integrity, he is the ideal person to present an award that recognizes the deepest values of the Aspen Institute.