A Life of the Mind(ful)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as professor and senator, fulfilled the Harvard ideal of service

“Enter to Grow in Wisdom. Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind.” Etched on the Ivy-covered Dexter gate to Harvard Yard and memorized by thousands of Harvard students and faculty, this unofficial motto has been a guiding principle of our institution for generations. It is a principle that found its realization in the life of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Last week Harvard, New York and America lost of one of its most prescient and luminary minds. Moynihan will be remembered most for his service to his Country: his near quarter-century representing New York in the United States Senate, his enormous impact as adviser to four consecutive United States presidents, and his distinguished tenure as ambassador to India and to the United Nations.

But his most enduring legacy for us on this campus will be his service to his Kind—the kind who grew up with him in Hell’s Kitchen and every other poor neighborhood across America. From Social Security, to medical care, to public transportation, to labor issues, the breadth and depth of his commitment to “promote the general welfare’’ was unparalleled in modern politics.

His life was proof that the world of ideas and of scholarly inquiry, that the search for truth at which we all endeavor in this university setting, can—and must—be used to benefit those among us who are most in need.

“As a political scientist, he was at the very top,” said Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, who chaired the government department during Moynihan’s time at Harvard. And true to his social science training, Moynihan was always guided by his research when formulating his policy proposals: he always tried to find solutions to fit reality, not fashion a reality to suit his solution.

Last year, as Moynihan was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from Harvard, University President Lawrence H. Summers lauded his “profound contribution to both the life of the mind and life of the nation.” He gave his whole mind—and mindfulness—to that service of others. In doing so, he gave hope to millions of Americans, and inspiration to us who dare to dream of doing the same.