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University President Drew G. Faust laid out her “case for college” in a speech Friday morning in Dallas, encouraging students gathered at a local high school not necessarily to attend Harvard, but to consider continuing their educations beyond the high school level.
Though she began by laying out the tangible indicators—wealth, employment, and civic engagement—that are often used to encourage college attendance, Faust spent the bulk of her talk arguing that college is critical for reasons that can’t necessarily be measured.
First, she positioned college as a door-opener, saying that it provides students with new and often unforeseen opportunities.
“College is a passport to different places, different times, and different ways of thinking,” she said, focusing on courses and opportunities offered by Harvard but also by Texas schools like Baylor and Texas A&M. “It is a chance to understand ourselves differently, seeing how our lives are both like and unlike those of people who inhabited other eras, other lands.”
Faust’s second point centered on the people that make up colleges and universities.
“Even if you go to a school that is local and continue to live at home, your classes will be full of people you’ve never encountered, with views and experiences new to you,” she said, according to her prepared remarks. “One of the most important ways in which students learn, at colleges and universities everywhere, is by interacting with people who are different from themselves.”
Faust added that by engaging with the work of historic figures in many disciplines students might figuratively “meet” people like Albert Einstein and Toni Morrison.
The Harvard president then argued that college allows students to dream big and, as importantly, to “think slow” in a fast-moving world.
“In business, huge profits can be made by firms that know more, act first, or connect faster. But there is a different kind of profit, a more lasting one, available to those willing to slow down and bear down on a difficult problem,” she said. “College can help you learn how to think, more than what to think.”
In closing, Faust echoed previous speeches in talking about the late Harry Parker, the longtime Harvard men’s crew coach who died last year.
“One of Harvard’s most beloved coaches, a man named Harry Parker, was described by one of his athletes as ‘making people prove themselves to themselves,’” she said. “For some, a coach holds up that mirror. For others, it may be a mentor, a co-worker, a parent, or a friend. But I want to leave you with this thought: For many people, that mirror is college, a mirror like no other—showing us what is possible, challenging us to raise our sights, asking us: ‘Do you want to be that?’”
The speech, delivered at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, was Faust’s final public event during a weeklong trip that took her first to Mexico City, where she hosted a private alumni gathering for about 500 attendees. Later Friday night, Faust appeared a similar gathering in Dallas.
—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida.
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