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Family Matters

America.

Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

I remember lying next to my grandmother in bed as a 10-year-old, tucked under the covers with my cousins as we attentively listened to her recount stories of Italy and communist Yugoslavia: of her idyllic Istrian childhood among the goats and chickens and bunnies and geese, of the prohibition of religion, the baptisms done in secret, and the secret police force, and of her father’s escape across the border to Italy in the dead of night chased by dogs.

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But I remember most the stories about what came after. The stories about America—the place that gave her a chance. The place that allowed her and my great-grandmother to thrive.

As we both worked at the kitchen table late at night, I remember talking to my father about his childhood in Italy: of the summers playing soccer on Italian beaches, of the shenanigans and harsh experiences of Italian military school, of being an officer and living with my mother in the Tuscan countryside.

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But I remember most the stories about what came after. How my father convinced my mother to come back to the States for a better life, and how that decision was the best they could have ever made.

Immigration is an act of defiance. It’s an upheaval of one’s current life in the hope (but never certain expectation) of something better. It requires a grit—a persistence—that not all people exercise. Furthermore, that grit not only stays with those who immigrate, but is passed down from generation to generation, and it affects every facet of one’s life.

Maybe that’s why I trust Lawrence S. Bacow, the 29th president of Harvard, to do his utmost to improve our community and serve the University well. Indeed, Bacow’s grit has already shown itself in his life as a servant to higher education.

As president of Tufts University, Bacow oversaw the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history. The Beyond Boundaries campaign, which took place during one of the most economically challenging times in decades, raised $1.2 billion for the university. This financial acumen and fundraising experience is especially vital given the University’s financial troubles, including an underperforming endowment and an incoming endowment tax that will likely affect University projects. Financial acumen, however, is useless without effective and just allocation of these resources to disadvantaged and underprivileged individuals.

Humble beginnings are a prominent facet of any immigrant family’s lore. Bacow’s parents, much like my grandmother, were refugees escaping persecution. His mother lived through Auschwitz. Obviously, these experiences don’t leave one unaffected. On the contrary, they imbue someone and their descendents with a sense of obligation to make the world a better place and aid those who need it most.

Bacow’s commitment to equalizing the educational playing field for those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged exemplifies this sentiment. During the Beyond Boundaries campaign at Tufts, the university allocated $434 million towards financial aid and other scholarships. Additionally, under Bacow’s tenure at Tufts, the university instituted programs including scholarships for Tufts summer school, the elimination of student loans for families with modest incomes, paid summer internships at nonprofits, and Tuft’s first university-wide loan repayment assistance program. Overall, under Bacow’s leadership, Tufts increased the amount of financial aid it distributes by 94 percent.

These actions, positions, and initiatives more than clearly demonstrate Bacow’s commitment to creating opportunity for students who are less fortunate.

Diversity is also a vital part of the history of those who have immigrated to America. The United States certainly has deep problems concerning xenophobia. Nevertheless, without a baseline understanding of the fact that our differences make us stronger, eventual integration into American society would have been impossible for not only my family, but also all immigrants’ families.

In keeping with his immigrant roots, Harvard’s next president has shown his passion for diversity throughout his life. Although Tufts admissions statistics during his presidency show mixed results with respect to diversity, during his time at Tufts, Bacow founded the Office of Institutional Diversity and helped create other diversity-related initiatives. Furthermore, he served under the Obama administration on the task force advising historically black colleges and universities. This further demonstrates a dedication to publicly serve in the interest of creating a more diverse nation.

Yes, Bacow is a white male. So, is he the most diverse candidate on the planet? Of course not.

But when I next talk to Papá and Nonna about why they came to America, I’ll know to approach this new chapter of Harvard’s history with optimism, confidence, and hope.

Lorenzo F. Manuali ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, lives in Dewolfe.

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