Thursday, June 15, 2006

News from Harvard

There is quite a bit this week.

First, we have Larry Summers' last Commencement Address as Harvard's President:

Our world is bursting with knowledge - but desperately in need of wisdom. Now, when sound bites are getting shorter, when instant messages crowd out essays, and when individual lives grow more frenzied, college graduates capable of deep reflection are what our world needs.

For all these reasons I believed - and I believe even more strongly today - in the unique and irreplaceable mission of universities.

Universities are where the wisdom we cannot afford to lose is preserved from generation to generation. Among all human institutions, universities can look beyond present norms to future possibilities, can look through current considerations to emergent opportunities.

And among universities, Harvard stands out. With its great tradition, its iconic reputation, its remarkable network of 300,000 alumni, its unmatched capacity to attract brilliant students and faculty, its scope for physical expansion in Allston and its formidable financial resources, Harvard has never had as much potential as it does now. Thanks to your generosity and the endowment's strong performance, our resources have increased in just the last three years by nearly seven billion dollars. This is more than the total endowment of all but four other universities in the world.

And yet, great and proud institutions, like great and proud nations at their peak, must surmount a very real risk: that the very strength of their traditions will lead to caution, to an inward focus on prerogative and to a complacency that lets the world pass them by.

And so I say to you that our University today is at an inflection point in its history. At such a moment, there is temptation to elevate comfort and consensus over progress and clear direction, but this would be a mistake. The University's matchless resources - human, physical, financial - demand that we seize this moment with vision and boldness. To do otherwise would be a lost opportunity, not only for Harvard but also for humanity. We can spur great deeds that history will mark decades and even centuries from now. If Harvard can find the courage to change itself, it can change the world.

This week's edition of the Harvard Crimson has all kinds of interesting stuff on Commencement'06. Do take a look. Its report on the Summers speech is here; its editorial about Summers' legacy is here.

The Crimson also has special sections devoted to the Class of '56 and the Class of '81 which feature profiles of some of the graduates from these classes. At least two names were familiar to me: Kenneth G. Wilson (Nobel laureate in Physics, 1981) and Susan Faludi (Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and feminist).