Chao Center Dedicated at HBS
Prominent political and business leaders, including U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker ’79, gathered this morning for the official dedication of the new gateway to the executive-education program at Harvard Business School (HBS)—the replacement for Kresge Hall.
The new building was constructed following a $40-million gift from the Dr. James Si-Cheng Chao and Family Foundation. The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center—honoring Dr. Chao’s late wife—will be the first building on the HBS campus named for a woman, as well as the first building at Harvard named for an Asian American. (An HBS press release issued in 2014, when construction started on the building, stated that the Chao Center would be the first Harvard building named in honor of a woman; that claim overlooked Maxwell Dworkin, named for Mary Maxwell Gates and Beatrice Dworkin Ballmer, the mothers of donors Bill Gates ’77, LL.D. ’07, and Steve Ballmer ’77, respectively, and Agassiz House, which carries the name of Radcliffe’s first president, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. Update, June 6, 2016: In addition, Longfellow Hall at the Graduate School of Education is named for Alice Longfellow, a benefactor of Radcliffe College and the daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)
HBS dean Nitin Nohria opened the ceremony by thanking the Chao family for their gift, calling the new center “a building with a true sense of place and purpose” and its namesake “an extraordinary matriarch of a remarkable family.” The Chaos have six daughters, four of whom—Elaine Chao, M.B.A. ’79, who was Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush; Grace Chao, M.B.A. ’78; May Chao, M.B.A. ’85; and Angela Chao ’95, M.B.A. ’01—are HBS alumnae.
President Drew Faust told the crowd, which included Chinese-language media and some of James Chao’s classmates from Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, “We gather today to celebrate a new building that will inspire extraordinarily talented students and faculty, not just from around the country, but from across the world.”
Elaine Chao, speaking on behalf of her family, explained the motivation for their philanthropic gift: “We were excited to have the opportunity to help educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” She praised her parents, who fled China after its civil war, settling first in Taiwan and eventually in the United States, for their dedication to their daughters’ education. “The hardships that they endured,” she said, “instilled in them a lifelong commitment to build bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds and cultures.”
Although Elaine Chao’s husband, Senator McConnell, did not speak at the ceremony, his Democratic colleague, Senator Markey, addressed him directly in his remarks, acknowledging, “I know what it means to you to have this incredible family celebration, honoring this historic family.” Markey also commended HBS for its worldwide reach. “The presence of so many people here from around the world,” he said, “reflects the truly global story that is the foundation of this center, this family, and the greatest global institution for academics in the world, Harvard University.” He added, in jest, that HBS “is also where you can take a class in business [with] Channing Tatum, LL Cool J, and NBA stars”—celebrities enrolled in a recent executive-education course on education, media, and sports. The Business School, Markey said, “has something for everyone.”
There was also more serious political talk at the ceremony, despite its bipartisan roster of speakers and guests. Markey took the opportunity to laud immigrants in general, asserting that immigrants “now launch more than one-quarter of all businesses in the United States. Immigrants are risk-takers, and they’re job creators.” He called the Chao family “the pluperfect example of the American dream come true, the quintessential immigrant story to the United States of America.”
Senator Warren, a former Law School professor, delivered a short statement in which she also recounted the Chaos’s immigrant success story: “They worked hard in this country,” she said, “but they never forgot how they started. They never forgot the opportunities that were opened to them because of education.” Warren called the Chao family’s donation “a gift that will permit the School to build a lasting legacy to expand opportunities for many, many more young people.”
Governor Baker announced that he was discarding his prepared remarks, and instead read a statement previously issued by James Chao: “Because Ruth devoted her life to excellence in education and enhancing U.S.-China relations,” it read in part, “she embodied the spirit of the love of learning of this university community.”
That evocation of the building’s namesake led fittingly to the ceremonial conclusion, when James Chao cut the red ribbon and opened the Chao Center, flanked by the Harvard and government dignitaries, as well as his daughters and six grandchildren. He spoke only briefly, to thank those in attendance by citing a Chinese saying—“When you have big thanks, just keep silent.”