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Shaun L. Donovan

By Laya Anasu, Crimson Staff Writer

When Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun L. Donovan ’87 returns to campus for his class reunion, he and his blocking group will search out an old Frisbee golf course hidden behind Harvard Business School.

In the 1980s, security guards regularly reprimanded the group for hitting students and windows with stray Frisbee tosses as they wound their way through the course.

“I got to know the Charles River well and became very good at fishing Frisbees out of the river,” Donovan said.

Steven M. Dauphin ’87, a member of Donovan’s blocking group, remembered Donovan as pragmatic and caring—traits that pushed him toward a career in public service.

“As you might expect from an engineer, Shaun first and foremost is a problem solver with a keen understanding of what can realistically be accomplished with a particular set of resources and circumstances,” Dauphin said.

“With that said, for over twenty years, he has been driven by the simple and powerful ideal that every person in this country should have access to safe, decent, affordable housing,” Dauphin added.


As an undergraduate, Donovan began working for a homeless shelter in the Square, an experience he called “formative.”

“For me, that was a very important experience in becoming interested in homelessness and housing,” he said.

Later, as a graduate student at the Kennedy School taking a course called “Literature and Political Reflection,” Donovan revisited public service.

“One of the requirements of the class was that every week you do some sort of service in the community around Boston,” Donovan said.

During this time, he worked at the Algebra Project, which aimed to teach math in a new way to students in underprivileged schools.

“It really was a formative experience for me in getting me interested in the work I do now, something I enormously value about the Harvard experience,” he said.

Donovan also attended the Graduate School of Design, where he said he learned to think about his surroundings in a different way.

“I understood things in a way that I never quite understood. We look at things but often don’t really see them. I thought I knew and thought I understood, but I understood in a different way,” Donovan said. “[Attending GSD] was a remarkable transformation for me.”

Donovan also credits Harvard with pushing him beyond his comfort level. One of his professors once said, “Teaching calls us to be more than we think we can be,” Donovan recalled.

The quote describes “what the Harvard experience can be and should be. For me, it taught me to be more than I thought I could be and it inspired me to work in service,” Donovan added.


Returning to Harvard 25 years later, Donovan is particularly excited to see the people he’s lost touch with.

“One of the fun things about going back is coming across, bumping into someone, that I hadn’t seen in a long time and hearing about the incredible adventures we’ve had,” Donovan said.

And others are looking forward to catching up with Donovan.

“He’s always been very intelligent, very much concerned with how others are doing. He’s very even tempered,” William E.S. Cleveland ’87 said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him.”

—Staff writer Laya Anasu can be reached at

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ProfilesCommencement 2012Class of 1987