City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez addressed Ransom Everglades upper school students at an assembly that formally launched the Holzman Center of Applied Ethics, then lingered outside the Lewis Family Auditorium taking questions from the school’s Student Government Association leaders. During his visit on December 7, the mayor reflected thoughtfully on the pandemic and the accompanying ethical challenges, and he fielded questions about homelessness, cronyism, partisanship and other challenges.
In the wide-ranging discussion that occurred on the auditorium stage with Head of School Penny Townsend and founding center director John A. King, Jr., and then continued in the school's entry driveway with student leaders after, the mayor kept returning to certain guiding principles. “Your credibility is everything,” he told RE’s students. “You have to be honest and transparent … Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”
The mayor was the inaugural speaker in what is expected to be a robust speaker series, and his visit was also the first major event hosted by the Holzman Center of Applied Ethics, a resource designed to encourage, inspire and empower students to engage in ethical decision-making and to act with honor, excellence and integrity. The center’s founder Steve Holzman P’21 was in attendance, along with center supporter John O’Sullivan P’15 ’21. Melissa Krinzman ’86, a trustee who works frequently with the mayor, also attended.
Townsend introduced the mayor, noting that he “has been a leader in the fight against climate change; he has leapt into the world of cryptocurrency for the benefit of Miami; and he has been instrumental in attracting tech start-ups and other businesses to our city.”
She and King flanked him in chairs on stage, engaging in a conversation that meandered from deeply serious issues – “There are ethical dilemmas everywhere you go,” the mayor said, “The higher up you get in leadership, it seems like the more intense, the more frequent and the more difficult that they are.” – to more light-hearted topics. The mayor showed off his “How can I help?” socks, a marketing riff on his infamous “How can I help?” tweet in response to luring tech companies to Miami during the pandemic. The mayor mischievously appointed O’Sullivan to purchase a pair for each student in the upper school student body.
But for the most part, he was serious. The first native Miamian to be mayor of the City of Miami, Suarez is a son of Miami’s first Cuban-born Miami mayor, Xavier Suarez. He told students he aspired to follow his father into politics; he grew up believing the work of public servants to be critically important.
“For me, the concept of being a public servant was a very noble endeavor,” he said. “It’s kind of pastoral in that you are guiding and leading a flock of people that believe in you, that trust in you, that are relying on you to lead them in the right direction.”
Suarez also noted: “I have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old. I’m very concerned about what kind of world they are going to live in.”
He recalled being the first elected official to shut down a major city event because of COVID-19, when he ordered the cancellation of the Ultra music festival before a single case had been reported in Miami. He also talked about contracting COVID-19 in early March, and his decision to provide a live diary of sorts – in the hope that he could destigmatize the illness, and cut into the fear that was raging at the time.
“You have to have a bit of confidence in your decision-making, in your integrity, and understand that you’re always going to have critics,” he said. “There’s always going to be critics, there’s always going to be haters, there’s always going to be doubters … That’s probably one of the hardest parts of my job is understanding that, no matter how hard I work, I’m never going to convince 100 percent of the people.”
Students provided him with a resounding ovation.