After much anticipation from the student body, Deerfield alumnus King Abdullah II ’80 paid a surprise visit to a school meeting on September 18. His Majesty has been an especially committed alumnus, having founded King’s Academy, a boarding school modeled on Deerfield, in Madaba, Jordan to provide opportunities similar to those afforded by his own education here.
Newly appointed Head of School Dr. John Austin came to know His Majesty over the course of his nine-year tenure as King’s Academy head of school. Dr. Austin praised Abdullah for his community and education-oriented accomplishments.
Dr. Austin talked about His Majesty’s years in Deerfield saying, “It was an important and formative experience for him, and it broadened his perspective of the world, giving him the essential skills of leadership, judgment, and careful critical thought, that have served him so well as the King of Jordan.”
These formative experiences are ultimately what inspired His Majesty to found King’s Academy, Dr. Austin explained. The main purpose was not only to provide quality preparatory education but also to ensure the accessibility of education to a diverse population of Jordanians. “Jordan needed a school…that took kids from every walk of life in the country, from every geographical region, regardless of their family’s income, and allowed them to grow into a young leader,” he said.
King’s Academy, inspired by His Majesty’s experience at Deerfield, has always been connected with Deerfield through the mutual relationship with His Majesty. Assistant Dean of Faculty and English Teach Anna Steim-Miller, having taught at King’s Academy from 2010 to 2012, said, “It was lovely to see the way in which His Majesty evidently considers Deerfield a kind of home. I have seen His Majesty speak maybe three or four times, both at King’s and, now, here at Deerfield. I am, each time, impressed by the way in which he engages his audience – his humility belies the profound role he plays as a leader in Jordan, the Middle East, and the world.”
His Majesty’s presentation focused primarily on current events in the Middle East, including a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil refineries that garnered international attention and the continuing rise of Syrian refugees entering Jordan’s borders. He specifically emphasized that in order to understand politics in Jordan, we must understand the Middle East as a whole. His Majesty also actively interacted with the Deerfield students in the audience by designating much of his brief time on stage to answer the multitude of questions students had for his work as a prominent political figure, his experience at Deerfield, and his stance on current social issues that his country faces. Unafraid to discuss highly controversial topics, His Majesty answered students’ questions regardless of the topic asked.
Sharing her thoughts on His Majesty’s visit, Maya Laur ’20, who asked a question about global politics, said, “I thought his open-door policy to Syrian refugees is really relevant to the United States’ immigration policy. It was really inspiring when he encouraged us to recognize people’s humanity before nationality and help those in need both within our borders and outside them.”
For many students, King Abdullah’s opinions on both politics and international relations between countries were some of the most meaningful aspects of his visit. Kareena Bhakta said, “For me, my biggest take-away was his message about how everything is interconnected and [how] understanding requires peeling back the layers to reveal the underlying truth.”
When King Abdullah II returned to the valley in 2000 as a commencement speaker to mark the beginning of a new school year, he asserted the importance of Deerfield’s honor code and sticking to the core values that we hold close to ourselves.
Abdullah said, “We need to face that new reality. We need to rely on the patience, wisdom, and justice instilled in us.” King Abdullah mentioned that the skills he acquired during his years at Deerfield helped him to become the leader that he is now.
As a former student himself, His Majesty has always had a strong connection with Deerfield, its values, and its mission to educate the youth. In an interview conducted by Deerfield Academy in the 2011 to 2012 academic year, while reminiscing on his Deerfield days, His Majesty said, “The relationships I had with my teachers defined my Deerfield experience. They taught me more than Algebra and English. They instilled in me the desire to do service.”
In a mutual strive to progress in education for the youth, His Majesty said when discussing a way for Deerfield to prepare its students for the interconnected world, “We [must] invest in our teachers. We provide them with the time and the tools to understand new ideas even while they continue to model Deerfield’s enduring ideals.” King Abdullah held Deerfield’s Mission Statement close to him throughout his life and political career.
Recalling His Majesty’s words and response to his question, Chijioke Achebe ’21 said, “I asked him if he thought the bombing of the Saudi Aramco refinery was a new front in the war in the Middle East, and he gave me a fascinating answer. He said that he thought that it was an obvious point of attack, and he also mentioned the development of far more advanced drones that could wreak far me havoc than we’ve seen.”
Sharing her thoughts on His Majesty’s visit, Mariachiara Giudici ’20 said, “I found it surprising how casual yet composed he was. He also seemed like a highly intelligent, extremely eloquent man, explaining complex situations in the Middle East in a manner that was extremely easy for under-informed high school students like us to understand.”
Regarding what he hoped students would gain from King Abdullah’s visit, Dr. Austin said, “I hope the students were able to see how accessible and authentic he was in person.” Dr. Austin emphasized the effect of Deerfield experience on King Abdullah’s career, continuing, “I know that he feels that the things he learned at Deerfield as a student and an athlete prepared him for the challenge of kingship. For me, he’s a great example of what Deerfield can do for young people.”
The Deerfield community was honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to hear His Majesty speak and respond to curious, inquisitive students. As Mrs. Steim-Miller said, “His Majesty also clearly believes in empowering young people and in fostering a new generation of leaders. We are so lucky that he made the trip back to Deerfield, and that he took the time to speak with us.”