Rudenstine's Book Hits Shelves

As Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine prepares to give his final speech to students at Harvard’s Commencement ceremony Thursday, his speeches are now available in a hard cover anthology, Pointing Our Thoughts: Reflections on Harvard and Higher Education, 1991-2001.

The book became available last month in what University spokesperson Joe Wrinn calls a “soft release.”

“It wasn’t an official grand opening type of thing,” Wrinn says. “I doubt you’ll be seeing him on Oprah or any of the other book tours. That’s not his style.”

Though Rudenstine wrote the speeches in the book, he credits staff members with putting the collection together.

“A lot of people had the idea that Neil had written a lot, voluminously and beautifully, and that he has a distinctive humanistic style thatwould be nice to preserve in an accessible form,” says Clayton Spencer, a Radcliffe dean who also works in the Office of the President.

In light of this goal, Spencer says, Rudenstine decided to publish the book on the Internet as well. The entire 377-page volume can be downloaded from the Office of the President’s website free of charge.

The book spans Rudenstine’s Harvard tenure, including his thoughts on the importance of diversity and the role of science and technology in higher education.

The title of the book comes from the 1994 kickoff speech for the University’s Capital Campaign-the $2.6 billion fundraising effort that many cite as the hallmark of Rudenstine’s presidency.

The book’s speeches also touch on some of Rudenstine’s personal anecdotes.

In a 1998 speech given at the Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Mass., Rudenstine spoke of the root of his passion for reading—a meeting with a high school adviser during his first term as a scholarship student at the Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut.

“I don’t remember trying to articulate for myself, at the time, what this entire experience actually meant to me,” he says.

“But I’m certain that it is not at all an accident that I have been buying books ever since...that whenever our family has moved house, I have not really been able to begin work (or anything else) until the cartons of books have been emptied and the library has been put back in order: because until that happens, it is hard for me to feel that my mind is back in order.”

According to Rudenstine’s assistant, Beverly Sullivan, he makes a point of writing his own speeches.

“The staff tried to make it easier for him, but he crafts his own speeches,” she says.

Rudenstine explains that the process of writing speeches helps him develop his ideas on a particular issue.

“I have a very difficult time separating substance from style,” he says.

For Rudenstine, writing his speeches is something he says he cannot delegate.

“It’s got to be my thoughts, my voice, my style,” he says.

—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at shoichet@fas.harvard.edu.