The Personal President

In a year of rather stern speechifying about political polarization and the need to engage on such divisive issues as access to abortion and controlling climate change, President Bacow had serious things to say (see here). But he also indulged in some asides that revealed a quick wit that appears often in private conversations, the long-established ties that preceded his move into Mass Hall, and a bit about his cultural roots.

Intoducing the honorary-degree recipients at the annual Wednesday dinner in Annenberg Hall, he noted that he had the “distinct pleasure of sharing initials” with the first: museum leader Lonnie Bunch. And of economist Emmanuel Saez, said Bacow (holder of four degrees in economics, law, and public policy), the Berkeley professor was known as “a shy data jock—by the way, I can relate to that.”

When Daniel Fenn ’44, A.M. ’72, received his Harvard Medal Thursday afternoon, reflecting 75 years of alumni service, the president went off script to recall meeting the honorand when Bacow was “a 20-year-old graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School in 1972.”

And as someone who speaks openly about his Judaism and roots in Jewish culture (the chaplain of the day Thursday morning was the Bacows’ rabbi, Wesley Gardenswartz), it was both natural—and very funny to those who have seen her work, most notably during the $9.6-billion Harvard Campaign—to hear Fenn’s fellow medalist Tamara Elliott Rogers, former vice president of alumni affairs and development, described as wielding “just the right balance of chutzpah and humility.”

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