Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter ’61 will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Commencement on May 27, the University announced yesterday.
Souter, a Rhodes Scholar and 1966 graduate of Harvard Law School, stepped down from the high court in June after nearly two decades of service.
In a statement, University President Drew G. Faust praised the former Lowell House resident’s independence and selflessness on the court.
"The dedication, humility, and commitment to learning with which he has pursued his calling should be an inspiration to any young man or woman contemplating a career in public service," Faust said.
The choice of Souter reflects Faust’s longtime commitment to promoting public service among members of the Harvard community since she ascended the presidency.
While the economic climate has hindered the University’s ability to finance large-scale public service programs, Faust’s recent efforts have been focused on promoting student projects and other opportunities in public service.
In October, Faust announced an initiative supporting students volunteering at the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the Harvard Kennedy School has been working with the White House to improve graduates’ job prospects in Washington.
Though the program has since been suspended, the Law School launched an initiative in 2008 to waive the third year of tuition for students who committed to five years of work in the public service sector.
Noah R. Feldman ’92, a Law School professor who clerked for Souter on the Supreme Court in 1998, also praised Souter’s commitment to public service yesterday, calling him the "the closest thing to a selfless public servant we’ve seen."
"He is a model of what a devoted public servant is in an era that has very few examples of that," Feldman said. "He threw himself into his job and worked 70 hours a week—not because he was a workaholic, but because that’s what his conscience told him he needed to do in order to do his job well."
Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 added that Souter’s Court opinions are well respected in the legal community.
"As a scholar, I always found his contributions to the law admirable, and his manifest concern for the plight of the most vulnerable of our citizens made his a beacon worth following," Tribe wrote in an e-mail. "I’m sure his reflections will prove enlightening at a time of national soul-searching and peril."
Appointed in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, Souter came to be regarded as a moderate liberal during his 19-year tenure on the federal bench. By the middle of his term, Souter frequently voted with liberals on issues including the death penalty, worker rights, and limits on abortion restrictions.
But according to Feldman, it was not Souter who changed, but the nature of conservatism in the United States.