Good afternoon, Class of 2025. It is a pleasure to see all of you gathered in one place—and an honor to add my voice to the chorus welcoming you officially as members of the Harvard community.
You’ll be surprised by how often we run into one another over the next four years. I hope you will feel free to call me Larry—everyone does. And I hope you’ll also feel free to say hello to my wife, Adele—She is also excited to get to know you and to hear about your College experience.
So how is it going so far?
Sorry—maybe you haven’t clapped in a while—how is it going so far?
That’s better! Please feel free to be elated! Yes, things could be better—a lot better—but we must continue to acknowledge and celebrate all that is good about being here, about being together, about being healthy, about being alive. Give yourself a break and savor this moment—you’ll remember it more than fifty years from now. Trust me.
Life used to be full of diversions, but the pandemic has forced all of us to spend more time with ourselves—more time thinking about how we behave, what we want, and who we are. Entering Harvard College will amplify those questions so I thought I would share my thoughts on how you might seek meaning and happiness in the weeks and months and years ahead.
There are a lot of books on the topic—and at least a billion TikToks—but the best advice I have ever read comes from an ancient source—the Talmud, a sacred text in the Jewish tradition. In the volume, Ethics of Our Fathers, Ben Zoma asks three questions for the ages:
Who is wise?
Who is mighty?
Who is wealthy?
Who is wise? The Talmud answers, “The person who learns from all people.”
A seat away from you—a row away from you—is someone who sees things very differently than you do, someone who holds fast to beliefs that are odds with your own. When you meet that someone—and you will—your first impulse may be to make your point, loudly and clearly. Try to resist that urge. Listen. Ask questions. Prompt conversation rather than conflict. If you leave this place with your backs to those who do not share your views, you will have failed to take advantage of one of Harvard’s greatest strengths—the diversity and dynamism of our community. Never forget: We learn from our differences.
Who is mighty? The Talmud answers, “The person who exercises self-control.”
Vaccination does not equal invincibility. The people you interact with daily may be returning home to family members who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated or who are at special risk of complications should they get the virus. Some of your classmates may be immunosuppressed or suffer from conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to this virus. Be mindful of them as you navigate your new home. Being part of this community—this year in particular—means bearing special responsibility for the health and safety of others. Please, please care for one another and for yourself.
Who is wealthy? The Talmud answers, “The person who rejoices in his or her portion.”
There is nothing wrong with ambition, but ambition for ambition’s sake can be a distraction. Over the next four years, I hope you will devote luxurious amounts of your time to understanding what truly satisfies you. Not your friends. Not your family. Not your community. You. To rejoice in your portion, you must find your portion—the endeavor that swells your heart and fills you with a deep sense of satisfaction and wonder. Believe me when I tell you that devoting yourself to something that matters to you will change your life. And, if you are like generations of those who have come before you, many of you will find that special something during your time here.
This past weekend I gave a toast at the wedding of the daughter of one of my closest friends from college. We met fifty years ago—about 150 steps from here—in a class in Emerson Hall. I was best man at his wedding. My wish for each of you is that during the next four years you will meet classmates who you will become your closest friends for life. They are here right now in this gathering. Your job is to go find them.
I am thrilled to welcome all of you to Harvard and excited to see how you grow in wisdom, might, and wealth as the Talmud defines them—and how you choose to seek meaning and happiness both here at Harvard and wherever life takes you. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves, have fun, make friends, and please stay healthy. Class of 2025, good luck and godspeed.
Thank you, Amanda. It’s great to be here—in person!—to welcome all of you back to Harvard. Your class is very special. You are the first in Harvard’s 385-year history to have both an online convocation and an in-person convocation.
Let’s hope the remix is as good as the original.
I hope you will still feel free to call me Larry. If we cross paths on campus, please say “hello” and let me know how things are going. We are all finding our footing this semester, and I want you to know that there are many, many people on campus dedicated to ensuring that your second year at Harvard College is everything you hope it will be, including as “normal” as possible.
Making that possible is a community effort. Yes, vaccination is required on campus, but the individuals who are here teaching you, coaching you, reshelving your library books, making your meals, cleaning your classrooms—the list goes on and on—may be returning home to young children whose freedom and opportunities are still limited by the pandemic.
That’s just one example of a degree of separation that each of us needs to keep in mind this year. Preserving our community—maintaining the ability to be together—depends on constant care for one another, especially as circumstances change. By now, we all know what it takes to stay safe—and I ask that you continue to be responsible and considerate people as we make our way through the semester together. The more we work together, the more likely we will be able to provide you with as normal a College experience as we can.
I also ask that you spend some time during these first few weeks noticing and marking those aspects of community that you missed last year—the everyday exchanges and experiences that narrow gaps in understanding and make friends of strangers. What do you savor most about time in person with your classmates? With your professors and mentors? What parts of this amazing campus now hold special meaning for you? Think about how you can shape your next three years to maximize those moments because those are the moments that will be with you for a lifetime. Moments that you may not have even noticed before but that now take on special meaning because of what you have all been through, together.
Notice and mark, too, how you have changed as a person since we last met. Challenges lead to growth, and this past year certainly was a challenge for every single one of us. How did you grow? Which aspects of who you are will you choose to nurture in the year ahead? Which will you choose to shed? This return—your return—to campus is a chance to see yourself and your classmates anew, to define and distinguish yourselves and your class. I cannot imagine a better time to undertake that work.
Finally, now that you have the luxury of being together again, I hope you will seize the opportunity to build a better community, a more compassionate community, a kinder community. I still have yet to meet anyone who thinks the world we live in—or the University to which we belong—is perfect. It is entirely possible that your view of how things ought to be is at odds with the view of someone just a few seats away from you. Never forget that we learn from our differences. Interrogating your own beliefs—and being open to thinking differently about your own assertions and assumptions—is what leads to wisdom. Learning and growing in wisdom is what being here—and being here together—is all about.
I cannot express how happy I am to be here with all of you to begin the academic year. Our time together is precious, more precious than any of us might have thought when you first arrived on campus. I look forward to seeing you throughout the semester. In the meantime, enjoy all that this remarkable University has to offer—but especially one another’s company. Good luck—and Godspeed.