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Morgan Stanley Managing Director Carla A. Harris ’84 shared five “pearls” of wisdom for post-Harvard success during the Black Men’s Forum (BMF) 10th annual Celebration of Black Women on Saturday night.
Harris won the 2004 Woman of the Year award at the event, which pays homage to the important contributions of black women to Harvard and society.
She told the audience, which included seven black female seniors who were honored with Senior Leadership Awards, that success depended not on “how much money you have” or “what you know,” but instead, “who you know.”
“The real power will be in your rolodex when you are out of Harvard,” she said.
Harris graduated magna cum laude in economics from Harvard in 1984 and was recently named to Fortune magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America.” She has also recorded a bestselling CD on Amazon.com titled “Carla’s First Christmas.”
“You have to learn to listen to the beat of your own drum,” Harris said as part of the first of “Carla’s Pearls.”
“You have to know why you are doing what you are doing at all times,” she said.
Harris recounted how she had to overcome a great deal of adversity in succeeding in a predominantly white male profession.
“You can call Carla Harris a lot of things but ‘ain’t tough’ ain’t one of them. As a black woman on Wall Street, you can’t afford to have people think you aren’t tough,” Harris said.
Brandon M. Terry ’05, president of BMF, said he could not think of a better person to receive the award.
“I thought she was amazing. She is really somebody that you just have to respect and admire,” Terry said. “She is such a complete person, and just a pleasure to be around.”
Terry and other BMF officers said they were equally impressed with the seven seniors who were honored at the celebration.
“It is always hard for us because there are so many exceptional black women at Harvard,” said Jason W. Young ’04, vice president of BMF. “Each of them is exceptional in her own right and it was an honor to be on the committee that selected them.”
The seven seniors were Alliah D. Agostini, Amanda S. Alexander, Natalya S. Davis, Ayirini M.U. Fonseca-Sabune, Alisha C. Johnson, Anne M. Morris and Michelle D. Wilson.
Harris said the true honor for her was receiving the award alongside the seven seniors.
“These young women are accomplished, ambitious and stellar, and I am proud to be in their company,” Harris said.
Agostini, who was vice president of the Association of Black Harvard Women and has been active in volunteer programs, said winning the award came as a surprise.
“It felt great. It is a wonderful way to end my Harvard experience and to show that all of the work that I have done over my past years here has been appreciated and recognized,” Agostini said.
In addition to the awards presentation, the celebration also included a performance of Boyz II Men’s “Thank You” by four Harvard undergrads and one alum, a dramatic reading of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Women Poem” and a dance selection from the Impulse Dance Company.
The evenings festivities were preceded by a series of panel discussions during the day which included a talk on images of black women in the media, the black woman’s political agenda and problems with balancing personal and professional lives.
Following the conclusion of the night’s ceremonies, the Sheraton Hotel ballroom room was transformed into a dance floor as the attendees celebrated into the early hours of the morning.
The event, which was attended by several hundred students, alums and community members, has expanded in size in past years.
“The seventh annual event was held in Lowell Lecture Hall—as you can see, we have come a long way,” Terry said.
Undergraduate Council president Matthew W. Mahan ’05 said he was most impressed with the event’s high turnout.
“What really impressed me was all of the alums that came back. I saw people I hadn’t seen since freshman year,” Mahan said.
Terry said he considered himself “lucky to have heard of these people, much less know them personally.”
“That’s what we are celebrating tonight,” Terry said. “Their vision is like a beacon of hope shining in the darkness.”
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