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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
UPDATED: October 18, 2013, at 10:49 a.m.
“As you live, believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life.”
W.E.B. Du Bois, Class of 1890, penned these words in his famous “Last Message to the World.” Harvard University took one large stride toward that greater life foretold by its first black Ph.D. on Oct. 2 with the official launch of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, funded by a $15 million donation from financier Glenn H. Hutchins '77.
We believe that the center is already a symbol of the enduring struggle for better race relations at Harvard.
It took the occupation of University Hall in 1969 for the African American Studies Department to be formed. Now, when students walk into the Hutchins Center, they will find that seven of the University’s existing initiatives dedicated to African and African American Studies, as well as four new initiatives, have been unified under one roof.
When tour guides lead their groups past the Hutchins Center, they will be able to say that housed in this building is the world’s premier center for African and African American Studies. In his opening remarks at the launch ceremony, Professor of African and African American Studies Henry Louis Gates, Jr. drew a thread through Harvard’s history, reminding all of those in attendance what it once meant to be black at this school. This is an institution that did not have a black graduate until 1869, that sent a black member of the lacrosse team to home in 1941 because the opponent, the United States Naval Academy, refused to play on the same field as a black student. This is an institution that before the 1960s had only a few black students each year.
Harvard has since transcended much of its troubled racial history, and the new Hutchins Center marks our University’s move toward something much greater. The Harvard of the past no longer exists because human beings, as W.E.B. Du Bois so eloquently put it, believed in life and our ability to make it greater.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct. 8, 2013
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that the Department of African and African American Studies is moving to the Hutchins Center. In fact, the Department will remain in its current home in the Barker Center.
CORRECTION: Oct. 18, 2013
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that the Hutchins Center had not yet opened. In fact, it opened October 2.
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