Repainting at Hunter College High School

At Hunter College High School's 2010 Commencement, student Justin Hudson delivered a speech to faculty and peers in which he expressed his guilt over having received a Hunter education while “socioeconomic factors” kept other students from the same opportunity. We alumni would like to express another feeling: that of having been betrayed.

Most of us are thankful for our intellectual gifts, grateful to the parents and teachers whose love and support saw us through, and well aware how lucky we've been to attend Hunter. Endorsing Mr. Hudson's speech, the faculty would apparently prefer that we replace these sentiments with arguably less noble ones: guilt, pettiness, and division.

Mr. Hudson says he doesn't deserve his Hunter education. He says we don't “deserve” our past, or our future, because we were initially identified as gifted “based purely and simply on luck and circumstance.” Surely he is right. It is luck, after all, that bequeaths to some and not to others the intellectual capacities that Hunter requires. It is luck, after all, that assigns some babies to parents who will seek out for them the best available opportunities, and some to those who don't. But there are different kinds of luck. Admission to Hunter is not granted on the basis of a lottery, and the most likely explanation for Mr. Hudson's having been recognized as “intellectually gifted” is that Mr. Hudson is intellectually gifted.

Whatever else one might say about race, society, and educational outcomes, educating gifted children in an environment where they are surrounded by similarly gifted children is a worthwhile thing to do. Our esteemed faculty, who selected and applauded Mr. Hudson's speech, have apparently lost sight of that mission in favor of some cosmetic notions about what their student body should look like: less white and yellow, more brown and black.

Hunter's student body does deserve a place like its alma mater. As Mr. Hudson described, seventh graders arrive at Hunter from neighborhoods throughout the city and countries throughout the world and face a daunting, unfamiliar and, yes, diverse place—and quickly discover that they are finally among other children with whom they can relate. Entering adolescence in such an environment, Hunter students prove themselves extraordinarily mature and dedicated, and they manage simultaneously to be creative, sensitive, and occasionally even fun—all under the weight of tremendous academic pressures and expectations.

That speech disparaged their efforts and belittled their achievements—and their teachers stood and clapped. “I feel guilty because I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do any of you.”

Indeed: they deserve far better.