Drew Faust’s somber Convocation words do not fail to inspire.
On the day before classes began, Harvard University President Drew Faust spoke to the entire freshman class for the first time. As she addressed them at the Convocation ceremony, in which every Harvard student takes part and which mirrors the Commencement ceremony for graduating seniors, her words struck a more somber chord than in years past. The start of freshman year is filled with excitement and celebration at every college throughout the country, but this year at Harvard, it is tinged with a more contemplative sentiment.
At Harvard and around the world, people are experiencing struggles new and old. One need not seek out news to be reminded of this; it is all around us. College students are often characterized as arrogant and naïve, but today, the freshmen class and student body at large are filled with doubts, worries of the future, and are uneasy in a turbulent society. President Faust was not shy about describing this “unsettling time.” She listed specific examples of violence and heartbreak as they occurred internationally and within the United States. Such treatment of the current events is honest and forthcoming. There are those who may feel particularly affected by that violence and heartbreak, but Faust did not dwell for too long on the reasons to despair. Instead she called her audience to action in a Convocation that perhaps best lived up to its ceremonial name. Faust called the freshmen to have the courage to challenge themselves; to challenge themselves in a deeper way than only in course load. She challenged this year’s freshmen and by extension, the community at large to, in one’s “pursuit of truth,” be open to debate and to new ideas. The “crucible of rational argument and exchange” is more a crucible now than ever before as individuals are put on trial for radical ideas and use hateful language to place others under criticism.
Faust’s strength, though, comes not from the acknowledgement of this condition but from the insistence that Harvard College students have the ability to change it by continuing to discuss, debate, and disagree. Junior Hailey Novis stated, “I was surprised when reading her speech – not only in the tone difference from my year’s Convocation – but in that she encouraged the type of debate that is, as we speak, causing tension on campus. It’s a good thing, we shouldn’t be afraid of tension.”
Adams House Master Judith Palfrey also enjoyed Faust’s speech. In conversations with Adams residents she described it as “excellent.” Palfrey found in Faust’s speech the hope of moving from a hard summer to a transformative school year. The “vision” of what Harvard is and what Harvard stands for is still being determined by all of us, not just the administration.
Freshmen Shelly Tsirulik was personally very inspired by President Faust’s speech. He believes that, “President Faust’s discussion of the troubling world around us, while somber in tone, was strong in message; we, not simply as Harvard students but as the rising generation of educated Americans, have a duty to the world to fix what we see right now.” Tsirulik is ready to be one of the brave students who defines the Harvard community. He recognizes the “empty rhetoric” that often fills the baser of society’s debates to which we have become accustomed. He urges, “We need to become a nation of doers, not a nation of speakers.”
With those words, and the action that Faust has inspired, this year will indubitably become one for the record books. Harvard is at the vanguard of challenging thought and it will continue to be so as students are welcomed on Faust’s “bumpy road toward Veritas.” Veritas, as defined by Harvard and by society, remains in question and is debated in many circles. However, this debate is not a bad thing. Society’s search for Veritas has the power to embolden students like those at Harvard to work passionately to leave the world a better place than we have found it.
Caroline C. Cronin (firstname.lastname@example.org) hopes we all find a new truth this term.