Guard the Change
Again, this year I was asked by the Black Students Association to offer remarks at its
annual President’s Welcome Reception at which President Drew Faust offered a special greeting this past Monday. The following are my reflections on what I said:
Racial change in our society is much like the setting sun. If we watch too briefly or simply
gaze at a sunset, little seems to change until the sun vanishes below the horizon. If, however, time-lapsed photographs are taken of that sunset, we will see that much changed (both subtle and obvious) while we gazed. By virtue of your age, your watch has been brief, so I suggest to you that you visit the archives in Pusey Library and thumb through the freshman facebooks from 70 years ago, 60 years ago, 50 years ago, etc. These are “time-lapsed photographs” of change in Harvard’s history and will crystallize the change President Faust described earlier.
I urge you, too, to consider the fact that twenty years ago Nelson Mandela was serving a life sentence in prison in South Africa and Barack Obama was a second-year student at Harvard Law School. Had someone gone to a soothsayer or fortune teller, asked that person to predict the future for those two men and was told that they would become president of their respective countries, he or she would have demanded an immediate refund and cried fraud. So when you think of problems confronting your generation, I dare say that none of them could match the problem of apartheid that confronted Nelson Mandela just twenty years ago.
I was an engineer on the Saturn/Apollo Project and there is some instruction in that experience for you. While you have no way of knowing it, your laptop computer has 10,000 to 15,000 times more technology than the mainframe computer that coordinated the Saturn/Apollo Project that sent a man to the moon and returned him safely to earth! When you add your cellphone, the Internet, etc., each of you is your own “media outlet.” Think what Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott might have done with an infinitesimal segment of your blessings.
Please try to recognize and appreciate the opportunities and resources that your Harvard experience will provide and use them for the enlightenment and advancement of all of humanity. Think of new courses and propose them to your faculty members. For example, I once proposed that a faculty member from Harvard Law School and another from Harvard Divinity School might consider teaching a course titled “Human Rights from the Bench and the Bible.” Such a course would demonstrate that those two sources
of right and wrong in our society haven’t always been rightly dispensed or interpreted, especially for minorities, women and others…
Finally, I ask you to recognize that change (even positive change) alone, isn’t sufficient, it must be examined and monitored. Please know that:
A CHANGING OF THE GUARD WITHOUT A GUARDING OF THE CHANGE IS MOVEMENT WITHOUT CIRCUMSPECTION AND MIGHT WELL BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.
Guard the change!