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John Harvard's Journal

Harvard’s 375th

The University plans for an anniversary.

May-June 2011


You’re going to see plenty more of this logo, as Harvard prepares to commemorate its anniversary in the next academic year. 

Plans for celebrating the University’s journey since 1636, and how it will evolve, are still in the making, but reflect “the opportunity to bring the members of our community together not just to mark our history and traditions but also to celebrate what is distinctive about Harvard today and what we aspire to be in the future,” as University marshal Jackie O’Neill puts it—while maintaining a suitably reserved tone. A 375th anniversary is not a 400th, and the economy does not justify extravagance. The aim, O’Neill says, is to showcase contemporary Harvard—a place that has become progressively “more diverse, global, and outward-looking” since its last milestone, in 1986—in ways that emphasize exciting work by faculty members, engage students, and connect alumni. Likely elements include:

  • A birthday party. It wouldn’t be a proper occasion without merrymaking. Accordingly, Friday, October 14—coinciding with freshman parents’ weekend, the Harvard Alumni Association’s fall meeting, and the Harvard College Fund assembly—has been reserved for festive dinners and receptions for students, faculty and staff members, and alumni in the Houses and other sites, followed by processions, led by student performers from diverse cultural traditions, to Tercentenary Theatre. There, further artistic performances, a light show, and other entertainments are scheduled, along with socializing encouraged by dessert buffets and a community dance.
  • Academic perspectives. Faculty panels on various subjects will be convened throughout the year, emphasizing the work of younger professors whose research, ideas, and teaching will shape the University and the world at Harvard’s fourth-century birthday. A presidential forum may, separately, examine universities’ roles in society.
  • Alumni experiences. The University communications and development staffs are collaborating on “Harvard Stories,” an interactive online library of video recordings of graduates talking about their formative experiences at the University, momentous memories, and more (inspired in part by National Public Radio’s Story Corps series).
  • A speaker series. Prominent alumni from various walks of life are expected to participate in campus lectures and perhaps panel discussions.

Reflecting continuity with tradition, a new Harvard picture book is being produced for the occasion (to be published by Harvard University Press). Reflecting change during the past quarter-century, this year’s events will be coordinated through a dedicated website, launching in the summer. Reflecting the eternal verities, O’Neill (who worries about such things at each Commencement) is trying to assure clement weather on October 14. President Drew Faust is expected to unveil anniversary details during this year’s Commencement exercises, on May 26.

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