Summers, whose rocky reception across the river in Cambridge led to his resignation in February, enjoyed two standing ovations and became the latest historical figure to have his name featured on a city street sign, after being lauded by the mayor for his work in the local community.
"He has done so much in the five and a half years since he's been here. These are things that will last forever," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who introduced the outgoing president as "my friend, Larry Summers" before presenting him with a sign bearing the words “Summers Place.”
The ceremony packed one of the Business School's opulent conference centers with local Allston-Brighton residents invited to view the premiere of a documentary on the area's history produced by John D. Perry '03 and sponsored by the University and Boston.
The star-studded list of speakers drew Yelena Dergacheva, who emigrated from Russia seven years ago to join her family in Boston; Dergacheva said she had received an invitation to the event after taking an English course at the Harvard Extension School.
"I wanted to see Larry Summers and Mayor Menino," Dergacheva said. "I think that [Summers] is a great man and we are upset that he is gone."
It was perhaps fitting that Summers, who used his office as a global bully pulpit to promote stem cell research—and discovered the pulpit’s perils when he speak provocatively about women in science—delivered his swansong on the opposite bank of the Charles.
"He wasn't just the president of Harvard, he was the president of the people," Menino said.
During his tenure as president, Summers went to great lengths to cultivate ties with the 13-year mayor, and last night spoke warmly of him, characterizing Menino as "one of those mayors" whose name would be associated with his city for years to come.
Both leaders reminisced about the fruits of their partnership, which included millions of dollars in donations to after-school programs and appearances at youth sports leagues.
"It's all about people, one at a time," Summers said in one of his final public appearances before interim president Derek C. Bok assumes the presidency July 1. Summers, who is often criticized for his brusque leadership style, added, “if you treat people right, if you respect what has been, it works for the best."
Last night's documentary interspersed historical background with testimony from locals—many of whom were in attendance last night—about 15 cent ice cream sundaes and cow heads floating in the Charles River.
The University's effort to warm the local community to its ever-deepening presence was not lost on attendees, who were treated to a sumptuous buffet of duck canapés, marinated artichokes, and chocolate éclairs.
"I think it's important for them to make the gesture," said Elizabeth Cusack, whose son, John Cusack, serves on the Harvard-Allston Task Force appointed by Menino. "And I think it will help in the future."
--Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.