University President Drew G. Faust invoked the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes at yesterday’s Baccalaureate Service to encourage members of the Class of 2011 to maintain their identities as they go off to achieve their goals.
As seniors wearing caps and gowns listened in Memorial Church and their parents and guests heard over loudspeakers in Tercentenary Theatre, Faust spoke at the College’s Baccalaureate Service, a traditional prelude to Thursday’s Commencement ceremony.
“Be who you are, or miss discovering who you are,” Faust said.
Faust’s speech drew heavily from Gomes, the legendary Memorial Church minister who died in February.
For the past four decades, Gomes had presided over the Baccalaureate ceremony and was an institution at Harvard Commencement.
“As a man of multiple labels, Peter Gomes was a little ahead of his time,” Faust said. “The black, gay, and once Republican preacher did not fit any categorization.”
“Even if you never came to a Sunday service or took his course on the history of Harvard, you could feel the ripple of his singularity,” Faust said. “As a man of words, he let no one finish his sentences for him.”
She encouraged the graduating seniors to maintain this individuality and confidence in their identity as they decide on their professional futures.
“The real question is how within the possible narratives can I most be myself,” Faust said. “How will I finish my own sentence, when I say I went to Harvard and then I—.”
Faust maintained a light tone through some of the speech, at one point joking about how, one day, the students might rediscover the hot breakfast that was lost to budget cuts two years ago.
The Baccalaureate Service, which Faust called one of Harvard’s “ancient and curious customs,” included readings from different holy texts, including the Bible and the Quran. The excerpts were read in their original languages as well as in English.
“It was pretty much like being at the U.N.,” Abel Acuna ’11 said, adding that he thought the service was a celebration of diversity at Harvard.
Lisa M. Ackerman ’11 said she appreciated the personalized nature of Faust’s speech, as it addressed specific students’ achievement throughout their years at Harvard.
“It was definitely a tribute to everyone’s accomplishment,” Ackerman said.
Faust became president in 2007, the same year the Class of 2011 arrived at Harvard.