UPDATED: Sept. 6, 2019 at 2:56 a.m.
Newly installed Harvard Alumni Association president Alice E. Hill ’81 said she wants to bring a more international focus to the University’s alumni organization in an interview Wednesday.
Hill — the first Canadian and first Australian to serve as HAA president since its founding in 1840 — said she was motivated to join the HAA after making connections with Harvard alumni in nearly every continent across the globe.
“Every time I've moved, there’s been a Harvard community there for me, which is lovely, because you're automatically a part of it, no matter who you are, and where you're coming from,” Hill said.
The HAA board of directors serves as an advisory body to connect and increase alumni engagement around the world. An HAA committee also nominates each year’s slate of candidates for both the Board of Overseers — the University’s second-highest governing body — and HAA directors.
Hill said she hopes to build on the steps the HAA has taken to include Harvard alumni currently living overseas. She noted that the advent of electronic voting in the Overseer and HAA Board of Directors elections has made it easier for international alumni to participate in the alumni network.
“There's a joke about Harvard degrees and their value...which is the value of your degree increases the further you get from Cambridge,” Hill said. “So we say in Australia, we have the most valuable degrees in the world.”
“In fact, international alumni are the most engaged alumni when we do survey work — when we do Alumni Engagement surveys — which is probably not surprising because to come here from Australia or South Africa or China, it's a big decision,” she added.
Hill officially succeeded former HAA president Margaret M. Wang ’09 — the youngest-serving president in HAA history — at the organization’s annual meeting during University Commencement ceremonies in May.
Hill said she chose the theme for her year — “people and place” — to reflect University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s view that “Harvard is its people.”
“Harvard's better after you leave, because you have this really lovely cohort here, but I keep saying imagine having access to everyone who ever graduated from Harvard, and not just from the college, but from all the schools,” Hill said. “It's an amazing community. And they are wherever you go, they are there.”
As HAA president, Hill noted she hopes to “acknowledge country” by highlighting the history and importance indigenous populations.
“It's actually really important for the members of our community who are First Nations people that we acknowledge them,” Hill said. “But it's even more important for us as a community that we recognize our deep history and our connection to place. And so that's sort of an Australian tradition that I'm going to bring to the HAA this year.”
Hill also encouraged current students to take part in the HAA even before they graduate.
“Recognize that there is a big community that wraps around the University, and that you will always be part of it,” Hill said. “Whether or not you're here at the college, or whether you're at the graduate schools, or whether you're out in the community, there is not a country in the world that does not have a Harvard graduate.”
Correction: Sept. 6, 2019
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that HAA was founded in 1897. In fact, it was founded in 1840.
Correction: Sept. 6, 2019
A previous verison of this story incorrectly stated that paper ballots were replaced. In fact, electronic voting was added as an option.
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—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.