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The Common Good: David Gelber '59 Speaks at This Year's John Hanly Lecture on Ethics and Morality
Sara Courtney

What do you do when your professional responsibilities conflict with the greater moral good? What if achieving unparalleled success for your industry meant ignoring the destructive consequences to your fellow man? For the future leaders of tomorrow—the Pingry students of today—these questions and more were confronted and grappled with at this year’s John Hanly Lecture on Ethics and Morality, when Pingry welcomed back David Gelber ‘59, co-creator and executive producer of THE YEARS PROJECT, which produced YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, the Emmy award–winning documentary series on climate change. For Mr. Gelber, the conflict between corporate interests and the greater good, between  short-term gains and long-term devastation, and, perhaps most importantly, between the objective truth and the sleek, insidious ways it can be twisted, are of vital concern. He came to Pingry to remind students of the moral promise they must keep—for each other, their future, and the common good.

In 1948, Mr. Gelber arrived at Pingry at the young age of seven years old. Calling himself a “rare bird at Pingry—a Jewish kid in a school with a quota system limiting the number of Jews it admitted”, he cherished the rigorous education he received, yet felt he was an outsider. He was a liberal among conservatives, disinterested in pursuing the Ivy League road. He gravitated toward the respected English Teacher Dr. Herbert Hahn, who “encouraged me to think critically about everything.” He played basketball and soccer, and described Miller A. Bugliari ’52 as his hero. And, even as a young boy, “I recall taking the Honor Code very seriously.”

As a student, Mr. Gelber thought Pingry’s Honor System was “focused mainly on personal behavior: don’t cheat, and treat the people in your life with kindness and respect.” Yet for a man whose career has focused so much on investigating the truth, whether as a storied executive producer at 60 Minutes or as a documentary filmmaker, he now feels differently. Standing before the students in Hauser Auditorium, he said, “I’m here today to emphasize that the Honor System should have to do with a lot more than an individual’s personal behavior. Actually, if you read it carefully, it already does.” Mr. Gelber read aloud the part he wanted students to consider: “Pingry students should act as responsible members of the community working for the common good rather than solely for personal advantage.”

It is this quote that Mr. Gelber wants current Pingry students to remember as they become the leaders in charge of our tomorrows. Describing the catastrophic effects of ignoring the science on climate change, and warning against ongoing disinformation corporations engage in to discredit evidence that should compel them to act responsibly, he implored students to choose the common good. Whether they grow up to be journalists like himself, or executives in an industry that cannot exist without causing climate change, Mr. Gelber called on the students to reflect on their Honor Code always, to understand it is not just about being honest on one’s exams, but it is about making sure the wellbeing of their community—whether here at Pingry, or on the other side of the world—is their responsibility.

Never one to shy away from the truth, Mr. Gelber urged the students to ask tough questions, to think for themselves, and to care deeply about the consequences of their actions. In an auditorium filled with the future leaders of tomorrow, Mr. Gelber’s message of a commitment to truth, and an Honor System deeply ingrained in the students, led to a deeply affecting call to arms on the necessity of making ethical choices.

The John Hanly Lecture Series was established in 1999 on the occasion of former Headmaster John Hanly's retirement, in recognition of his commitment to teaching students and other members of the school community how to make life's decisions within an ethical framework. The Fund enables Pingry to bring in a variety of speakers to campus to address the moral and ethical issues facing all of us in the 21st century.

Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications