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Grad Student Lecture Series Asks Audience to Think Differently

By Leah S. Yared, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 8, 2016, at 4:27 a.m.

Student-nominated speakers from across Harvard presented TED-talk style mini-lectures at the sixth annual “Lectures that Last” in front of a packed Memorial Church audience Saturday evening.

With topics ranging from bilingualism to successful marriages, and from racial inclusion to economic development, the professors and deans on the stage challenged the audience to think differently about events in their everyday lives. The event was targeted for graduate students across the Harvard.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Xiao-Li Meng, who is also a professor and former chair of the Statistics department, wove math and marriage advice together in his talk.

“The law of regression toward the mean tells us that disappointment is inevitable when we start with extremely high expectations,” Meng said.

He described a wedding ring as a “perfect symbol” of the statistical phenomenon.

“Where any ring is expected to be a perfect circle mathematically, a closer inspection will almost always reveal some charming individualities,” he said. “It also reminds us that to love perfectly, we must accept each other for who we are.”

The entertaining talk sparked the most laughter of the night.

“I also hope I have given you a helpful line for your marriage or relationship: ‘Honey, it’s not me, it’s the regression toward the mean,’” Meng said.

Co-chaired by three graduate students, Saturday’s lectures were the most well-attended yet, according to Peter J. Dyrud, vice president of event coordination for the Harvard Graduate and Professional Student Government, which organized the event with support from the Provost’s Office.

“It was really funny, it was also really good advice, and I guess you know now that I’m in my late twenties at this point... it resonated with me and it was relevant to me,” said attendee Haithem Abdella, whose favorite speech was Meng’s.

Steven S. Rogers, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, spoke to the audience about the prison pipeline created by a lack of education and the overwhelming numbers of African Americans and Latinos in prison.

“So what’s the solution to the problem? And why should you care?” Rogers said. “The reason you should care is because, if nothing else, this is a very costly institution. It costs more on average to incarcerate a man than it does to send a person to Harvard.”

In a speech that touched on recent race-related controversies at Harvard Law School, Law professor Kenneth W. Mack delved into the definition of inclusion.

Some Law school students “have called for things that constitute a fundamental challenge to the rules that govern a University,” he said. “I think that those kinds of questions and those kinds of problems are entirely worthy of our attention.”

The co-chairs said the theme of the event “Crossroads” was inspired by the diversity of Harvard’s graduate student body.

“It was based on just the idea that we have so many people coming together from different backgrounds, different parts of the university, to come and share each other’s stories and learn from each other,” Dyrud said.

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