Last Monday, Harvard announced that former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 was would be the speaker at Harvard’s 364th Commencement on May 28. We believe the decision to have Governor Patrick address the Class of 2015 is a good one. As governor, Patrick served the Commonwealth well, and his legacy and views remain important to Massachusetts, and therefore to Harvard. As an extraordinary alumnus with a distinguished record of public service, he will certainly have valuable advice to share with the graduating class.
A graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Patrick was elected Massachusetts' first African-American governor. He broke new ground with his eight years of service, showing uncommon leadership on issues of inclusion, like gay marriage, from the beginning of his time in office. To a large extent, Patrick represents the best of what Harvard aims for its students to become. Coming from a low-income background, the governor succeeded at the College and Harvard Law School, going on to dedicate the prime of his career to serving others. As Harvard seeks to increase the diversity of each class, alumni like Patrick remind us of the success that every person is capable of attaining with hard work. He will also likely have nuanced perspectives on the Harvard experience and its role in public service
Patrick is also less controversial than previous commencement speaker choices, though we hope that this was not a factor in the decision. There certainly can be value in having someone who stirs up controversy on campus or does not pander to our general mode of thinking. In short, it can be valuable to hear from a speaker even if he or she engenders contention. Although some found the decision to invite Michael R. Bloomberg, a 1966 alumnus of the Business School, to speak at Commencement particularly controversial, his selection was appropriate because of his distinguished record as a successful businessman and as Mayor of New York City. Similarly, Patrick is an appropriate choice to give the address this year because of his record of service to the Commonwealth.
The choice of a Commencement speaker is not about controversy for the sake of controversy, yet neither is it about picking an uncontroversial option for the sake of unity. Rather, speakers should be chosen based on who can most effectively address the class and from whose personal experiences graduating seniors can gain the most insight. As an alumnus who has just finished an eventful and historic eight-year term as Massachusetts’ Governor, Deval Patrick is the right man at the right time. Finally and most importantly, Commencement is about the graduates. We believe that Patrick will serve them well.
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