At the Head of His Classmates

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan '86 is chief marshal for Harvard's 360th Commencement.

Arne Duncan

On Commencement day, the chief marshal of the twenty-fifth reunion class greets fellow alumni and alumnae marching into Harvard Yard with their classmates and presides over a festive luncheon for the honorands and other dignitaries. This year, a well-schooled educator and educational administrator fills that position: the class of 1986 elected Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, to represent them on the University’s most celebratory day of the year.

A sociology concentrator in college, Duncan was also co-captain of the basketball team; he called on those athletic and leadership skills when he returned to his hometown, Chicago, and began working to develop better educational opportunities for the city’s children, first at the nonprofit Ariel Education Initiative and then within the public-school system itself. (He was eventually named CEO in 2001 and served until his cabinet appointment.) “Basketball helps me go out and relate to kids all over Chicago,” he said at the time. “It’s been a bridge builder, the way it’s been my entire life.” He liked to end visits to public schools in the gym, playing two-on-two games with pupils.

As an alumnus, he has interviewed applicants to the College as a volunteer with the Harvard Alumni Association’s Schools and Scholarships Committee. He has also served on the visiting committee to the University’s Graduate School of Education and was elected to the Board of Overseers in 2006. In acknowledging the honor of being called to serve on Commencement day, Duncan said,

President Obama has challenged America’s young adults to lead the world in college completion by the end of the decade. At Harvard today and at thousands of institutions of higher education this spring, young men and women are celebrating their work toward helping America reach that goal and begin their roles as future leaders of this country.

To learn more about Duncan, read these articles from the Harvard Magazine archives:


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