President Bacow's Commencement Remarks
As prepared for delivery May 25, 2023
I suspect many of you are sitting here today, as newly minted Harvard graduates, wondering what the future holds for you. I can relate to that. This is my last Commencement, and I am pondering the same question. Like you, I am contemplating what happens next.
Whatever your dreams are today, I wish for you what you wish for yourself—and I hope that living a meaningful life is high on your list. What do I mean by that?
You have worked extremely hard to earn your Harvard degree, but you are also extremely fortunate to be sitting here today. With education, with good fortune, comes responsibility, and that responsibility includes looking beyond your own success to help others.
No one accomplishes anything in life on their own. At the beginning of this ceremony, I asked you to recognize your friends and families who have supported you, and you did. But you have also received support from countless others. For example, those who pushed and encouraged you, and who may have recognized something in you that you did not recognize in yourself; those who had confidence in you even before you proved yourself worthy of their trust; those who extended themselves to open doors for you. And to all these, you can add the invisible others: those who volunteered their time to create organizations that have been central to your life; those who worked to build institutions that nurtured your capacities, talents, and ambitions; those who helped to sustain and strengthen this great university, which I hope has left its mark on you, and from which you now graduate.
I could go on.
Soon it will be your turn to extend a helping hand and to create hope and opportunity for others. We expect this of you—and more.
I have never met anyone who thinks the world we live in is perfect. This statement is equally true of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and those across the political spectrum. So, if you believe this world is imperfect, the only way it will get better is if good people like you work to repair it. This is now your responsibility.
Harvard gave me a great education, but it also raised my expectations for myself. It opened my eyes to what was possible. At my Commencement, I never imagined that someday I would be standing here giving the final remarks at your Commencement. I hope—as you find your way through life—that you will have similarly pleasant surprises.
And now, to all of those who helped me along the path of life, to those who gave me opportunities that I never could have imagined, to those who gave me the extraordinary responsibility and helped me to lead Harvard over these past five years, thank you. And to Adele, my wife of 48 years who has been my partner on this incredible journey and all others, thank you. Like all of you who are graduating today, I will seek to repay all those who have helped me by trying to help others and to find ways to repair this world.
As I prepare to take my leave, I am reminded of a quotation from a book of wisdom called Ethics of Our Fathers. It is the meditation of a great teacher and scholar. “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.”
To the Class of 2023, thank you for teaching me so well. I am grateful to each and every one of you for being a constant source of hope and optimism. Serving as your president has been the privilege of my life. I look forward eagerly to celebrating all that you will do for the world—and all whose lives will be made better by your good work.