Thursday, June 09, 2005

Commencement at Harvard

The commencement is back at Harvard and it's a lot of fun. Recall that in 2002, CNN focused on the new string theory graduates

because the agency was convinced that the string theorists were connected with intelligence.

Among the people who have just received their new degrees from Harvard, you would find not only the new lawyers, architects, medicians, future politicians, managers, artists, and scientists, but also

  • Edward Witten who does not need to be introduced to the multi-dimensional readers of this blog
  • Chuck Vest who has served, among other things, as a celebrated president of the best university on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge East from the Central Square
  • David Baltimore, a Nobel prize winner for Medicine and the current president of Caltech and a key person in research of retroviruses and transcription of RNA to DNA
  • John Lithgow, a famous actor who is gonna deliver a speech in the afternoon

all of whom were awarded by honrary degrees. But of course, the most important person on Harvard Yard was the President of the University. He had to confer all the degrees to the new educated scholars from all branches of human life. And he had clearly a lot of fun with the undergrads whose majority obviously love him.

The speeches were well-prepared; this comment also applies Alicia Menendez with her "Perfect Imperfection" among others. Our graduation ceremony at Charles University in Prague was much more formal - but still likable.

Before the lunch, the exercises were adjourned by the person who had the authority to do it: the Sheriff of Middlesex County who could also become a comedian if he wanted. ;-) Throughout the day, Harvard alumni of all ages - starting with the year 1921 (!!!) - are marching through Harvard Yard. They have also made generous contributions to Harvard: for example, more than 35 million dollars came from one of those "rich" years.

Summers' talk

President Summers has offered his global visions. Three centuries from now, what will be the most important event of the current era according to the future historians? Summers thinks that it will be the growth of the developing world, mainly Asia, and the ability of the U.S. to respond to these changes. Summers said that there were many fewer people losing their lives because of wars than at any time in the past; the GDP may grow by a factor of 30 in the developing countries in a single lifetime. At the same moment, the U.S. policies are misunderstood - and perhaps misunderstanding - for many people outside the U.S. This is why Harvard's policies towards the foreign scholars are important. Summers stressed the importance of Harvard students from abroad; the offices that Harvard is opening in Bombay and other places; the students' visits to other countries. What is a better place to study China than China, for example?

The thoughtful analysis of the world's cultures has proved to be important many times in the past. For example, our knowledge of anthropology has helped America to occupy Japan more efficiently after the war. ;-) Also, Gorbachev's aide called Yakovlev was once asked why was the Berlin wall torn down. It was partly because of his studies in the U.S. in the 1950s! Even if there were just a small glimpse of an influence, and I am sure there is, such a glimpse is worth of paying our money to these projects. The President has also announced many new activities of Harvard that allow anyone in the world whose parents are poor to come to Harvard without any support of her or his family.

Also, he explained that Google together with Harvard are working to digitize the whole content of Harvard's classical libraries.

John Lithgow

John Lithgow started modestly. He said that his speech was an extraordinary moment not only in his life, but also in the history of Harvard because it is the first time when an actor gives the main commencement speech. So what kind of wisdom can he tell us? Are you nuts? Would you expect wisdom from an actor? If he were a wise guy, he would never have become an actor. Nevertheless, Lithgow tried and people liked it. He told the new alumni to be creative, useful, practical, and generous. And he added a fifth rule: finish BIG.

So what was the punch line he offered? He was reading from his new book, to be published in 2007, that will be dedicated to the 2005 Harvard alumni. It will show the Dunster House as an example of a college, and the Harvard Crimson instead of newspapers. The book will answer to all question marks that the students may have had during their last semester at Harvard: the main hero is gonna be a female mouse called Mahelia or something along these lines. She decided to study science. Even though the mouse did not look particularly bright to me, her professor said that she was a genius, and eventually she becomes a bachelor of sciences.


  1. Lubos:
    I wonder if you were capable to pull that CNN plank all by yourself, or you have a co-operative to help you?


  2. All the photos appear to be doctored, Are they or are they not? :-)


  3. Hi Lubos... you wrote:

    ``President Summers has offered his
    global visions. Three centuries from
    now, what will be the most important
    event of the current era according to
    the future historians?''

    I find it hard to believe that in this
    day and age the Oil Crash doesn't get
    mentioned when these things are
    speculated upon. The end of the era of
    cheap oil will rival in importance the
    beginning of the industrial age.

    Bruce Scott