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Op Eds

Lives Well Lived

By Kevin Rudd

To graduate from this great university, ranked first of all universities in the world, is a great privilege. It also brings with it equally great responsibility. And the graduating class of 2014, like the hundreds that have preceded it, will know this in their bones.

As someone who is neither a Harvard graduate nor an American, I know this from experience: When you meet Harvard graduates in countries around the world, there is an automatic expectation of excellence in their field of study, research, or professional endeavor. And so the lifelong challenge for Harvard graduates is to continue to live up to this enduring expectation.

When “Veritas” was chosen as the University motto, I presume it was for no idle reason. The founders believed, as the world now expects, that this university’s graduates would be in the core business of the lifelong pursuit of the truth of things, both for its own intrinsic virtue, but also in the service of humankind, and will be straining every sinew in the course of that pursuit.

Service to the community, your country, and, more importantly, the world writ large thus constitutes the further part of this university’s unwritten charter. This should never be seen as some sort of fleeting philanthropic commitment, or as a calculated program in networking, branding or personal advancement. Very simply, for those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the world feels about Harvard. The aggregate brainpower of its alumni and their capacity to organize is of itself of sufficient capacity and quality to deliver at least a major dent to most of the great problems of the age in which we live.

My own field is Sinology. And here, Harvard has great talents within its tent: Those who understand the depth and breadth of Chinese civilization itself, and those who embrace, engage, and, from time to time, contest China in the multitude of policy and professional fields that China now impacts across the world—from mechatronics to macroeconomics, and from missile modernization to metaphysics.

This 2014 graduating class will be among the last to emerge into a world where America is indisputably number one, starting with the size of its economy. In this sense, the classes of the second decade of this century will have much in common with those graduating in the 1870s, when the Europeans, not the Americans, still dominated the global economy.

One of the core questions of our century is how China and America can negotiate this great transition in a manner that preserves a Pax Pacifica, maintains regional prosperity, enhances sustainability, and is based on a sufficient commonality of interests and values to underpin it all.

Because Harvard has such a vast Sino-American alumni network, as well as an equally vast body of knowledge between them, the University is marvelously placed to conceptualize, to incubate, and to operationalize new cooperative dimensions to the future relationship between China and the U.S., a relationship that will be so critical for us all.

Deep traditions of scholarship and service to the world also have further utility for the wider Harvard community. The happiest people I have met in life are those who are serving a higher purpose beyond themselves, their paycheck, and their careers. The unhappiest are those who are not. And that goes for the graduating Class of 2014 as well.

Lives enriched by the deep satisfaction that comes from a commitment to professional excellence, lives ennobled both by a sense and sensibility of service, and lives worth living through the sheer joy of giving—for some this might be seen as the road less travelled. But in fact it is the path to a life well lived.


Kevin Rudd was the 26th Prime Minister of Australia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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