The Public Intellectual Speaks

Zakaria will bring worldly wisdom to Commencement

Globalization may be an overused term, but it is certainly one of the defining ideas of our time. The internet allows us to connect instantly with people across the world. Our generation is poised to enter a workforce that is more transnational in character than any other. Our university itself is growing more international. Harvard College is enrolling record numbers of students from outside the U.S.; international students make up 11 percent in the class of 2015. Increasing numbers of Harvard students go abroad each January and summer break, and this geographic spread will likely extend to post-graduation careers in the near future.

In this context, it is fitting that Harvard chose Fareed Zakaria (Ph.D ’93) to speak at the 2012 commencement ceremony.  Zakaria has used his position as a public intellectual to encourage American readers to look beyond the nation’s borders and think of current issues in a broader, more cosmopolitan way.

For example, his much-cited Newsweek cover story in October 2001, “Why Do They Hate Us?” changed the post-9/11 discourse in America for the better. By incorporating modern Middle Eastern history into its causality narrative, Zakaria argued that Islamic extremism did not come from envy, resentment, or essential evil but rather increasing state corruption and incompetence in the Middle East and regional public perception of the United States’s role in this process. It is a deft and compelling argument. Moreover, Zakaria showed true courage of conviction in voicing it in such a sensitive environment.

Additionally, Zakaria is one of a rare breed of public intellectual who combines genuine intellect with the ability to communicate effectively with a large audience.  His work at Newsweek and Time amply demonstrates his ability to refine complex ideas for mass consumption without degrading their content.

We applaud Harvard for selecting as Commencement speaker Zakaria, who is both a public intellectual and journalist. As Harvard students, we are proud to see a well—known voice take the podium, and we are excited to hear what Zakaria will have to say about anti-Wall Street sentiment, the destabilization of Europe’s financial markets, and whatever other international crises come up between now and May. Furthermore, we at the Crimson believe that journalists are essential to the intellectual vitality of our community, and we are happy to see one of our own recognized.

In an age when the birth and expansion of the blogosphere has meant that unprecedented numbers of people are able to publish news analysis and commentary—with both positive and negative consequences—it is important to pay homage to the few authoritative voices left. Zakaria is not only a foremost example of such an authoritative voice on foreign policy, but he is also a dynamic thinker who will impart important wisdom on our graduating seniors.

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