An Unscripted Life: The 2010 Baccalaureate Service
“By ancient and curious custom,” President Drew Faust told the graduating class of 2010 in her May 25 Baccalaureate address, “it falls to me to offer you a final sermon before you go.” Speaking from experience shared with the class—of grand plans rethought in the aftermath of “the biggest meltdown of world financial systems since the Great Depression”—Faust recounted the lesson learned: “Life never follows a script.” (Read the text of Faust's address here.)
“We didn’t have to melt down the roof of Harvard Hall into bullets—as we did in 1775; but we did curtail plans,” Faust told the class, suggesting that the crisis is part of their education, that upheavals teach lessons.
“The first is about humility,” she said. “We have been forcefully reminded that we cannot control or even predict the future or what it will require of us…. The unforeseen events of the past two years have forced us to imagine the world differently; they have demanded that we adapt, and throw away the script we thought we were following. And they have reminded us once again of the value of the liberal arts, which are designed to prepare us for life without a script—for a life with any script.” The second lesson? “Embrace risk…Don’t settle for plan B until you have tried plan A,” Faust urged. Then, echoing a message that Bill Gates delivered on a visit a few weeks earlier, Faust said the third lesson is that “The world really needs you”—a lesson the class seems already to have absorbed, she added: “Nearly 20 percent of you applied for Teach for America—far more than at our peer institutions, and the largest percentage of any school class in the history of the organization.” And finally, Faust told her audience, the fourth lesson is that “living in a world without a script demands and rewards creativity.”
The address was full of historical references, but also touched with humor on current events. As freshmen, “Your accomplishments were legion….At least you said they were,” Faust joked, alluding to the widely reported story of a student admitted under false pretenses.
Faust went on to recount a few of the class’s notable accomplishments: the startup of an NGO that built a school for girls in Afghanistan; the creation of a senior-thesis film selected for screening at Cannes; the establishment of a sustainable water-supply system for a rural community in Ghana.
The service, a Harvard tradition since the seventeenth century, also included remarks from the Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey minister in the Memorial Church. It included readings from the Analects of Confucius, the Hebrew Bible, Hindu Scripture, the Holy Quran, and the New Testament.
As Gomes’s message in the program said, “The occasion is both joyful and solemn, intimate and public, filled with the exuberance of youth and sustained by venerable and weighty tradition.”