2006 Commencement Address
Larry Summers's views on Harvard University:
2006 Commencement Address: The world that today's Harvard's graduates are entering is a profoundly different one than the world administrators like me, the faculty, and all but the most recent alumni of Harvard entered.
It is a world where opportunities have never been greater for those who know how to teach children to read, or those who know how to distribute financial risk; never greater for those who understand the cell and the pixel; never greater for those who can master, and navigate between, legal codes, faith traditions, computer platforms, political viewpoints.
It is also a world where some are left further and further behind - those who are not educated, those trapped in poverty and violence, those for whom equal opportunity is just a hollow phrase.... At the same time, today, the actions, and inaction, of human beings imperil not only life on the planet, but the very life of the planet.
Globalization is making the world smaller, faster and richer. One-third of human beings now live in places where the standards of living may increase 30 fold in a single human lifespan - a transformation that dwarfs what we call the Industrial Revolution. Still, 9/11, avian flu, Darfur, and Iran remind us that a smaller, faster world is not necessarily a safer world.
Our world is bursting with knowledge - but desperately in need of wisdom.... For all these reasons I believed - and I believe even more strongly today - in the unique and irreplaceable mission of universities.... And among universities, Harvard stands out....
America today misunderstands the world and is misunderstood in the world in ways without precedent since World War II. A great university like ours has a profoundly important role to play in promoting international understanding.... I look forward to the day when Harvard sets a standard for future leaders of our country by assuring that all students have meaningful international experiences before they graduate.
There is much more to be done, too, in truly integrating Harvard with the world. Students from abroad coming here to study return home changed people, and those they meet here are changed by them. Remember a few years ago the rescue of a doomed Russian submarine crew? This rescue was only made possible by a contact between a Russian admiral and an American admiral - two who never would have communicated if they had not met in a Kennedy School joint military program....
I believe that... the Faculty of the College will need to put individual prerogatives behind larger priorities and to embrace new structures and norms of teaching and learning. To provide the closer student-faculty contact our students deserve, faculty will need to take a greater role in leading discussions, in responding to student writing, in advising student concentrators. They will need to provide the broad introductions to large bodies of knowledge the students are right to demand.... I look forward to the day when Harvard is... the best undergraduate education in the world--the day when once again what we do here in this Yard defines the ideal of liberal education.
Yes, I have these last years been a man in hurry. My urgency boils down to this: For an institution like ours to make the great contributions the world rightly expects of us, we cannot rest complacent on this, the more comfortable side of innovation; on this, the more familiar side of the lectern; or, even, on this, the reassuringly red brick side of the river....
I am honored to have served as your president during the early days of what I hope - and believe - will be Harvard's greatest epoch. I have loved my work here, and I am sad to leave it. There was much more I wanted, felt inspired, to do. I know, as you do, that there are many within this community who have the wisdom, the love of Harvard, the spirit of service, and the energy that will be necessary to mount the collective efforts that this moment in history demands.
I bid you farewell with faith that even after 370 years, with the courage to change, Harvard's greatest contributions lie in its future.