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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Installation: A Summers Day

November-December 2001

Lawrence H. Summers, Ph.D. '82, matriculated formally as Harvard's twenty-seventh president on October 12. The occasion had many of the trappings of a Commencement with half the throng--crimson banners, exotic clothing, affecting music, elevated talk, all-around contented bonhomie, time-tested rigmarole, high production values--but was less two-edged, lacking bittersweet endings and leavings. The installation brought expressions of shared hope for the main man and the institution he leads and shared support and resolve among the celebrants at a time of national alarm.

The festivities got going on the evening of Thursday, October 11. Invited guests (looking spiffy for Cambridge, in suits and the equivalent) gathered in Sanders Theatre for Segue!...A Celebration of Students and the Arts. They were asked on the invitation to be in their seats by 6:30, which argued for an early dinner; the concert would be followed by a dessert reception in Annenberg Hall at 8:30. The lower reaches of Sanders were perhaps three-quarters full, the balcony empty. At 7:05 the president and his three children swept into the theater and advanced to the center of the orchestra. The house lights went out and a spotlight shone on Summerses for a moment. Then they sat.

The concert was wonderful--and dramatically staged. It began with an invisible chorus singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a projected film threw rippling stars and stripes on the stage and paneling above. The house lights remained off, and spotlights played upon a quick succession of 20 solo performers and groups: Nokuthula Ngwenyama, M.T.S. '02, violin, and Paul Kwak '03, piano, with a piece by Fritz Kreisler; soprano Lara Marie Hirner '04, with "Alleluia" from W.A. Mozart's Exultate, Jubilate; "One Moment in Time," sung by baritone Tom Lowe '05, fresh from his role as Rum Tum Tugger in the London production of Cats; a stomping turn by the Gumboots Dance Troupe; a mildly risqué number, the only humorous touch of the evening, by the sequined ladies of the Crimson Dance Team; Cary McClelland '02 declaiming an excerpt from William Faulkner's address on receiving the Nobel Prize for literature; and so on, most impressively. One cherished the rare sour note, a suggestion that the artists were aspiring young people, not utter professionals.

The concert had begun before it began, with members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, the oldest continually performing symphony in the United States, now in its 194th season, concertizing on the lawn outside Memorial Hall as guests arrived. "When I got out of the car and saw the orchestra playing on the green, it was just magical," Anita S. Summers, the president's mother, told the Crimson.

Dessert in Annenberg Hall afterward brought mingling of the guests with the student performers and the munching of assorted cheesecakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, flourless chocolate diamonds, miniature éclairs, and the like. "I can't believe these kids are all at Harvard," said Robert G. Stone Jr. '45, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation. "It's mind-boggling."

John E. Ffowcs williams (pronounced fox; "I'm Welsh"), the master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, "where 370 years ago the 24-year-old John Harvard graduated bachelor of arts," spoke of "The Ties That Bind" at a service of thanksgiving in Memorial Church first thing Friday morning. "Universities in the two Cambridges are confident institutions, constantly changing to provide the highest standards of education and research, sharing hopes and values, and the determination to protect those values," he said. "Today, the need for mutual support in protecting things we hold dear extends beyond our academic horizons, and it is the source of great comfort that our centers of learning have provided in the past, and continue to provide today, conditions of calm reason in which wisdom can develop. I'm expressing everyone's hopes that our international leaders are wise enough for the awesome task ahead. But equally important is the need for wisdom at the helm of the universities." Williams was pleased, he said, to "celebrate the fact that today Harvard is filling that need."

Ministers of the towns of Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, Watertown, Roxbury, and Dorchester attended, representing those churches entitled to seats on the original Board of Overseers under the College's charter of 1650. Swami Tyagananda and Lama Migmar Tseten were among those offering prayers.

The first hymn was "America." "Long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light," sang the congregation. The service brought the first performance of "The Sweets of Contemplation," an anthem by Daniel Roihl '98, commissioned for the day. "Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless'd, May peace, with balmy wings, your soul invest." The first anthem rendered by the choir was the soaring "The Last Words of David," by Randall Thompson '22. According to 2 Samuel 23: 3-4, those words were: "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain."

Installation day was in fact summery: bright and fair and in the 70s. Church-goers debouched into a golden morning with post-equinoctial light slanting in a different direction from the pre-solstitial light of Commencement. Next came a choice of six invitation-only symposiums featuring a total of 35 professorial luminaries. The brilliance of the audience was itself amply demonstrated during question periods, proving that Harvard people exercise their brains with regularity. "If you don't use it, you lose it" applies strongly to brains, said Carla J. Shatz '69, Ph.D. '76, Jf '76, Pusey professor of neurobiology at the medical school and a panelist in the symposium "Brain Science and the Science of Learning." The seers discoursing on "Balancing the Scales: Global Inequality and the Challenge of Development"--among them Robert J. Barro, Ph.D. '70, Waggoner professor of economics, and Jeffrey D. Sachs '76, Ph.D. '80, Jf '81, Stone professor of international trade--took bearable heat from audience members with well-muscled brains of their own.

At a time when a parent can tell a university administrator, "For $32,000 a year, I don't expect my child to get Cs," and surveys suggest that students themselves value a B.A. chiefly for its promise of increased future earnings, reported professor of higher education Richard P. Chait during a symposium on "The Company of Educated Men and Women: Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Undergraduate Experience," how, asked Princeton provost Amy Gutmann '71, Ph.D. '76, can elite colleges in particular "pass on the joy of discovery" to their students? Martha L. Minow, Ed.M. '76, professor of law, and Arnold S. Relman, professor emeritus at the medical school, were among those exploring the effect that increasingly global commercialization has had on the academic and practical aspects of the medical and legal professions in "The Professional Ethic Meets the Market Economy: Professional Education in a Global Society." At "Great Art, Mass Culture: Distinguishing the Enduring from the Entertaining," the panelists agreed that great art versus mass culture is a false dichotomy, and Kay Kaufman Shelemay, Watts professor of music, played a recording of music from the Middle East called a pizmon, a Syrian-Jewish hymn combining liturgical lyrics in high-ecclesiastical Hebrew and a popular Arab tune sung in cafés, a hybrid musical form highly appropriate for the times. Nobel laureate Dudley R. Herschbach, Ph.D. '58, Jf '59, Baird professor of science, moderated the discussion of "Science on the Edge." He began by saying that the panel had been charged with looking into the future and being predictive, but, he noted good-humoredly, "President Summers is an economist, and economists are used to making firm, reliable, confident predictions," while scientists are in the business of pursuing what they don't know. He cited Lord Kelvin to the effect that x-rays would never be useful and that manned flight was an impossibility. (For more coverage of the symposiums, see the magazine's website: www.harvard-magazine.com.)

 

Attendance at the installation of President Summers by out-of-towners may have been muted by fear of flying. Crimson Catering laid on lunch for fewer invitees than anticipated--about 1,200--in Annenberg Hall and a tent erected in front of the Science Center: grilled chicken marinated in hard cider, garnished with apple-cranberry chutney, served with wild-rice salad with currants, and carrots, parsnips, and squash. Iced tea. For dessert, tea cookies emblazoned with Hs. The table centerpieces consisted of a profusion of finger pastries, some involving chocolate disks bearing the Harvard shield.

The Progressive Student Labor Movement staged a noontime rally in front of Holyoke Center as part of their "living- wage" campaign. Demonstrators carried signs reading "Uninstall Poverty, Harvard" and "Do the Right Thing, Larry." Some wore purple shirts demanding "Justice for Janitors." Participants sent up a chant: "What's outrageous? harvard wages! What's disgusting? union busting!"

During lunch, a bomb-sniffing dog with handler swept the Tercentenary Theatre stage. A security fence draped in crimson and white cloths stood between the stage and the audience.

 

Bedecked and bedizened splendidly in their academic garb, representatives of more than 170 institutions of higher learning and learned societies were on hand for the afternoon installation ceremonies in Tercentenary Theatre. (At a Loeb House reception after all the hoopla, guests were offered a "Coat and Regalia Check" station.) The procession formed in front of Boylston Hall: first the Harvard faculty, then the visiting dignitaries, then the soberly attired clergy, the student representatives, the civic dignitaries (among them, Senator John Kerry), and so on, then two pipers and a drummer, followed by Overseers, Corporation members, president emeritus Neil L. Rudenstine, and finally University marshal Richard M. Hunt, Ph.D. '60, escorting President Summers.

As the Harvard University Band struck up "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard" just after 2 p.m. and the procession got moving, Professor William Hutchison, the Commencement caller doing extra duty, told the visiting academics processing by him, "Here's the big surprise: this is actually a football game."

With every breeze, a gentle rain of golden locust leaves showered down on the seated assembly.

The first undergraduate to speak at a presidential installation, so far as is known, Paul A. Gusmorino III '02, enumerated various opportunities confronting Summers, including "the opportunity to transform un- dergraduate education." He repeated advice of President A. Lawrence Lowell: "Occasionem cognosce: Recognize your opportunity." "Seize it!" Gusmorino advised.

Karen Spencer Kelly '80, president of the Harvard Alumni Association, wished the new president--once her Ec 10 teaching fellow--"unparalleled success."

The president of Yale, Richard C. Levin, LL.D. '94, allowed that "Harvard is blessed with the broadest and deepest assembly of intellectual talent and academic resources in the world, and it is to Harvard that the whole world looks for leadership. These are mere facts, but, believe me, they're not easy things for a Yale president to say." Levin recalled what Yale's fourteenth president, James Rowland Angell, said about Harvard at its tercentenary celebration in 1936: "In the somewhat fatuous and futile comparisons of institutions with one another, so dear to the heart of certain rather literal and metallic-minded folk, she is often put first."

The Inaugural Choir (an unprecedented amalgam of the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, the Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, the University Choir, and members of the Kuumba Singers, some 250 in all, a superchoir) performed Benjamin Britten's Cantata Academica, joined by the Boston Brass Ensemble, and later Claude Goudimel's O Combien est plaisant.

In a formal charge to Summers to nurture and extend Harvard's strengths and to acknowledge and remedy its shortcomings, Richard E. Oldenburg '54, G '56, L '57, president of the Board of Overseers, declared, "In an always troubled world, we look to great universities like ours to assert and defend intellectual and ethical values, which are among the noblest aspirations of the human spirit. In good times, we tend to take this role for granted. In difficult times, we more clearly recognize this role as essential to maintaining a society with freedom, tolerance, and civility. Today we are in a difficult time, so let us take particular pride and satisfaction in celebrating Harvard's long and continuing dedication to the highest standards in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and understanding." Oldenburg delivered to Summers insignia of authority: two large silver keys, two seals of the College, and the earliest College record book. The president hammed it up a bit with the keys for the crowd.

Senior Fellow Robert Stone presented Summers with a replica of Harvard's charter of 1650, "under which the President and Fellows of Harvard College exists as the oldest corporate entity in continuous operation in the Western Hemisphere." (The original document was displayed, framed, on an easel on the stage.) "Had we gathered here but five weeks ago, I might have said to all of you that education and discovery, the core activities of our Univer- sity, stand among the pursuits most vital to our society and its future," said Stone. "Much has changed in the past five weeks. But that much has not. The cause of learning, of scholarship, of mutual understanding, of ideas that inform wise and responsible action--that cause is more crucial now than ever."

The president began to sketch his vision for the University in an address (see below). The assembly sang "Fair Harvard," accompanied by the band. The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, B.D. '68, prayed to God: "In this moment of high endeavor and great expectations, fix thou our steps that we stagger not at the uneven motions of this world. Give grace to the living, rest to the dead, courage to the anxious, patience to the weary, and to this foundation, dedicated to truth and nourished by a steadfast providence, grant us the blessings of a useful and hopeful future, a place in which we seek not only greatness, but goodness, not only vision, but virtue."

Then the mighty chorus sang the first verse of "America the Beautiful," and for the second verse the assembly joined in: "O beautiful for patriot dream/ that sees beyond the years / thine alabaster cities gleam, / undimmed by human tears!"