Bacow Takes Command

By

A Deeper Look into the Inauguration of the 29th President of Harvard University

 

By ANA LUIZA NICOLAE

 

Through sparkling rays of sun and falling leaves, a procession of various alumni and affiliates made its way through the crowd in Tercentenary Theater, this past Friday, October 5, as Lawrence S. Bacow was officially installed as the 29th President of Harvard University in the Tercentenary Theatre in Harvard Yard.

 

The ceremony began with the Academic Procession, where members of the Harvard faculty, governing board, leadership, and other dignified delegates from other universities marched in academic regalia to honor Bacow. Following the procession was the installation ceremony, during which various members of the Harvard community and neighboring institutions made speeches in celebration of Bacow’s past accomplishments and future aspirations for the university.

 

Speeches kicked off with an address from L. Rafael Reif, who, since 2012, has served as the President of MIT—the university at which Bacow completed his undergraduate career and served as chancellor for three years. With humorous anecdotes and rather sly insinuations that MIT made the man who now presides Harvard, Reif mentioned feeling like a very  proud father, dropping his son off for his first day of College. His gift to Larry Bacow was also significant— a block of limestone from the original MIT dome, with the inscription “A chip off the block,” to symbolize Larry’s long-lasting attachment to MIT.

 

Following Reif’s address came speeches from; Robin E. Kelsey, who spoke on behalf of Harvard’s “workaholic’’ faculty, Catherine L. Zhang, who spoke on behalf of the Undergraduate Council, Margaret M. Wang on behalf of the Alumni Association, Calixto Sáenz on behalf of the staff, and the charismatic Charles D. Baker on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

 

In the midst of the “Good afternoon’s”  and the congratulations to Bacow, Youth Poet Laureate Amanda S.C. Gorman ’20  delivered a poem dedicated to celebrating Bacow’s leadership.

 

“I only needed to speak with him for two minutes before I knew why he is in it. Tikkun olam. To repair the world,” Gorman said.  

 

With the longest of the parts over and done with, Susan L. Carney, President of the Board of Overseers—or “Guardians,” as Carney describes—presented the insignia of office to the President. After each emblem of Harvard’s long lasting tradition had been passed on to Bacow by one of the four previous and living Presidents of the University, William F. Lee spoke on behalf of the Harvard Corporation, of which Bacow himself was a Manager only a few years ago.

Finally, after a long period of build-up to the jewel of the ceremony, Bacow delivered his inaugural address. Using this platform, Bacow turned the audience’s gaze outward towards the influence of Harvard in the world— especially in the world of higher education in the current context of both an administration that questions the necessity of institutions like Harvard and an ongoing lawsuit over University affirmative action policies.

 

“Unfortunately, more people than we would like to admit believe that universities are not nearly as open to ideas from across the political spectrum as we should be; that we are becoming unaffordable and inaccessible, out of touch with the rest of America; and that we care more about making our institutions great, than about making the world better,” Bacow said. “We need, together, to reaffirm that higher education is a public good worthy of support — and beyond that, a pillar of our democracy that, if dislodged, will change the United States into something fundamentally bleaker and smaller.”

 

Bacow also addressed his hopes for maintaining “equality of opportunity” within higher education, working to counter the elitism that institutions like Harvard have historically been known for, and striving to maintain the opportunity for economic mobility through education. Through research, emerging efforts to mitigate climate change, pursuing equality through diversification and a general dedication to excellence, Bacow proclaimed belief that Harvard will influence the world in a better way than ever before.

 

I am deeply honored to assume the leadership of this wonderful institution, and proud that as the nation’s oldest university, Harvard has helped to shape the American system of higher education, which is magnificent in its independence, sweep, and diversity,” Bacow said.

 

After thanking the persons of most influence in his life, Bacow, far-removed spatially from the commotion at the steps of Widener Library, concluded his speech, undisturbed by the vociferous calls to action intonated by several Harvard Kennedy, SLAM, and Asian Student Organization students.  

 

The  inauguration ceremony was immediately followed by the Bacow Block Party, which was open to all HUID holders and hosted at the center of Harvard Yard. After the most formal part of the event, alumni of different experiences and students mixed and mingled along the tables filled with comfort food for the cold October evening. In the backdrop, workers had started bringing down the technological apparatus and packing up the week-long deployment of infrastructure for the occasion.

 

Ana Luiza Nicolae ([email protected]) is still frigid about the weather and caramelized apples at the block party.