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Jordan Bliss Perry’s Latin (and English) Address

The Latin salutatorian finds strengths in the intersections between the humanities and modern sciences.

5.27.21

Photograph of Latin Commencement speaker Jordan Bliss Perry

Jordan Bliss Perry
Screenshot by Harvard Magazine


Jordan Bliss Perry
Screenshot by Harvard Magazine

Multarum Artium Magistri

(Editor's note: The English translation follows the Latin text.)

Praeses Bacove, decani honesti, professores sapientissimi; familiares, amici, et hospites; condiscipuli carissimi denique, ubicumque in mundo estis, SALVETE OMNES!

Maximus mihi est honor apud vos hanc orationem habere et hoc traditum Harvardianum servare, etiamsi hoc anno horribili mutanda sunt sollemnia nostra. Non enim rostrum vexillis condecoratum, sed Theatrum Tercentenarium mortalibus vacuum ac pixellatum adspicitis; non quasi in medio mari milium amicorum, sed in virtuali comitio cancellato sedetis; non denique sonantia tintinnabula Ecclesiae Memorialis, sed sibila surda computatri auditis.

Fortasse illud immutabile constat, quod discipulus litterarum classicarum quinque minutas loquitur, manibus circumvolantibus et voce clamante in lingua antiqua et obscurissima. Sed ne Lingua Latina quidem pandemiae est expers. Romanis enim debemus non solum gratias agere ob radices “Modernae” et “AstraZenecae,” sed etiam ab eis veniam petere, quod deformavimus fidele verbum “coronam.”

Discipulus quidem et informaticae et litterarum classicarum, coniugii scientiae modernae ac linguae antiquae haud imperitus sum. Multi nostrum commentationes baccalaureatas scripsimus — heu, sine bibliothecis, in quibus noctes alternas attrivissemus procrastinantes ad auroram nitidam. Quo in labore meo, repperi grammaticam antiquam et machinas autodocentes laborare ad communem finem posse. Praeterea, saepe gavisus sum in similibus nuntiis condiscipulorum, quippe qui duas singulas disciplinas item coniungerent, seu mathematicam cum historia, seu philosophiam cum statistica.

Itaque curriculum Harvardianum inprimis nos hortatur ut inter disciplinas pontes construamus — ut aliam artem alia scientia muniamus. Immo, ecce Educationem Generalem! Ecquis audivit documentum celebratum de heroe Graeco? Certe in memoria tenetis, quomodo Homerus in primo versu Odysseae Ulixem laudet “πολύτροπον,” versutum, peritum multarum et variarum artium via longa perfecta. Per iter nostrum autem in hac universitate, nos quoque, ut ait semper Decanus Khurana, transformati sumus praeceptis omnium disciplinarum. Non modo unius scientiae praestantes, sed etiam multarum artium magistri facti sumus. Hoc enim culmen artium ingenuarum est.

Pestis autem in qua nunc vivimus demonstrat ultra hoc praeceptum. Tantum enim debemus biologis, nostris heroibus modernis, multa passis, dum conderent remedium, inferrentque vaccinam mundo. Nos ipsi autem callidi cultores epidemiologiae facti sumus, ut nuntium de mutationibus et vaccinis intellegeremus. Sed non modo scientia sed etiam artibus humanioribus crevimus. Nam libros, carmina, picturam, musicam, aut comoediam resumpsimus. Fabulis nostris autem in quarentina intermissis, ad personas televisionis et cinemae vertimus, ut gaudia tristiaque humanitatis sentiremus. Si ergo scientia e peste eripimur, per pestem artibus humanioribus sustinemur.

Itaque, cum his ex claris portis et in magna limina vitae gredimur, ipsi portemus hanc interdisciplinitatem doctam in Harvardiana. Utamur Educatione Generali ad causam maiorem quam spargere in cenis nugas de tempestatibus, Daruinismo, pyramidibus, scurris, aut Biblia Hebraea. Disciplinas autem adhuc secretas contexamus; nitamur ad ista culmina gubernationis et negoti, litterarum et scientiae! In mundo nostro quidem semper opus est multarum artium magistris. Quem ad finem, sua quemque moretur cura: inveniant medici philosophos suos, advocati poetas, et machinarii philologos. VALETE OMNES!

A Jack of All Trades

President Bacow, distinguished deans, most learned professors; family, friends, guests; dearest classmates wherever in the world you might be, GREETINGS TO ALL!

It is a great honor for me to deliver this speech before you and continue a Harvard tradition — even if this annus horribilis dictates a few changes to our ceremony. You now behold the Tercentenary Theater not adorned with festive banners as usual, but empty through a pixelated lens. You sit not amidst a sea of thousands of comrades but in the boxed grid of a virtual meeting room. No longer do you hear the echoes of the Memorial Church bells, but rather, in their place, muted chimes from your computer.

Perhaps the only aspect of this ceremony that has remained the same is that a Classics student still spends five minutes wildly gesticulating with his hands and exclaiming in an ancient and most obscure language. Yet not even Latin itself has been immune to this pandemic — to the Romans, we owe not only gratitude for the roots of the names “Moderna” and “AstraZeneca,” but also an apology for sullying their trusty word “corona.”

A student of both computer science and Classics myself, I am no stranger to this marriage of ancient languages with modern science. Many of us spent the last year writing theses — alas, without the libraries, in which we would have wasted away night after night procrastinating ‘till shining dawn. In my project, I learned that ancient philology and modern machine learning could indeed work hand in hand towards one common goal. As such, I’ve often been delighted to hear about similar efforts from my classmates who also combined disparate disciplines, whether mathematics and history, or philosophy and statistics.

In general, the Harvard curriculum encourages us above all to build such bridges between different forms of knowledge, fortifying one with another. Just consider the Gen Ed program — who here took the famous class about the Greek Hero? You certainly remember how, in the first line of the Odyssey, Homer praises Odysseus as πολύτροπον — a man of many manners — having experienced and learned a variety of different things on his long way home. During our own journey through college, we too have been transformed, as Dean Khurana always says, by ideas from all fields. We have become jacks of all trades, in addition to masters of one. For this indeed is the keystone of a liberal arts education.

The pandemic in which we now live further reinforces this lesson. On one hand, we owe so much to the biologists — our modern Greek heroes — who have endured blood, sweat, and tears to discover a cure and bring a vaccine to the world. On the sidelines, we’ve all become amateur epidemiologists to keep up with the news about mutations and vaccines. However, it is not only in science but also in the humanities that we have grown. We’ve resumed old passions for books, poetry, painting, music, and comedy. With quarantine having paused the playback of our real lives, we’ve turned to characters in television and movies to feel the joys and sorrows of the human experience. Indeed, if it is science which rescued us from the pandemic, it is the arts which carried us through it.

Thus, as we step forth into life beyond these famous gates, let us carry with us this interdisciplinary spirit instilled in us at Harvard. Let’s use those Gen Ed courses for causes greater than peppering cocktail parties with tidbits about hurricanes, Darwinism, pyramids, clowns, or the Hebrew Bible. Let’s weave together previously separate inquiries as we strive to the peaks of government and business, arts and sciences. In our modern world, there’s always a need for a master of all trades. With that in mind, may each of us be guided by our true passions, whatever they may be — may the doctors among us find their inner philosophers, the lawyers their poets, and the engineers their classicists. FAREWELL TO ALL!