Aaron: Icon of Perseverance

Baseball Legend Will Address Seniors Today, Offering Lessons on the Value of Hard Work

Hank Aaron is not a traditional Class Day speaker.

Instead of the politically active figures chosen in recent years, the members of the Class of 1995 have selected an inspirational sports legend to celebrate their entrance into the real world.

And class marshals say they believe that no one represents the real world better than Hank Aaron, who has worked hard throughout his life to achieve.

Aaron began his major league baseball career facing death threats for being one of the first Blacks to play in the major leagues. He ended his career facing death threats for breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.

In between, Aaron consistently showed why he is considered one of the greatest ever to play the game.

"Like Jackie Robinson, he has demonstrated to us how one can keep his poise under the pressure of racial difficulties and the various threats that he received from his fellow Americans as he attempted to break a world record," says S. Allen Counter Jr., director of the Harvard Foundation, who knows Aaron personally.

Class marshals say they are impressed by Aaron's successes and invited him partly because he has succeeded despite the hardships of racial prejudice.

"I think that his life tells a lot about national history and strength of character and leadership and all the things we should admire and think about as we leave Harvard especially since he did not obtain a higher degree," says First Harvard Marshal Jamie Miller '95-'96.

"He was one of the first Blacks to break the color line and he became the most successful home run hitter in history," says Third Marshal Ernie Minelli '95. "He did that at a time when not everyone was willing to accept him. I think he could teach us a lot about perseverance and courage and humility."

Miller said the class also invited Aaron as an inspirational figure.

"We felt in light of the recent baseball strike that Hank Aaron was a fallback to a time when our national pastime was more devoted to playing and the beauty of the game," Miller says.

The class marshals might get their wishes. Aaron said in an interview last week that he was not entirely sure what he would say to the Class of 1995.

"I kind of feel like this is the first day of my professional career, and I'm so nervous," Aaron jokes.

In addition to his speech, which may focus on "the ABC's of learning," Aaron will attend the senior picnic in the Old Yard and possibly some masters' teas.

Aaron says he would like to tell graduating seniors that their entrance to the working world is in some ways an introduction to reality.