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Our Next Chapter

By Michael Y. Cheng, Contributing Opinion Writer

Dear Harvard College,

I am writing to let you know that I am resigning as student body president, effective immediately. I was elected on the signature promise of dissolving and replacing the Undergraduate Council. Since that’s been fulfilled, I must step aside so we can turn to our next chapter.

Many generations of Harvard undergraduates before us have debated changing or ending the Undergraduate Council. Forty years after the Undergraduate Council’s establishment, this generation found the political will to take a decisive step. Nearly 4,000 undergraduates voted in the referendum (57.2 percent voter turnout) — the highest number of votes cast in any Undergraduate Council election since 2004. You chose to establish a new, action-oriented student association that aims to better serve all of us and generations of students to come. I am excited to see you participate in the initial elections and bring your aspirations for our University to this new system.

The last few months have taught us a lot. They have shown that we are capable of coming together, listening respectfully to others’ points of view, and turning our principles and ideals into reality. Leadership requires imagination, a willingness to question systems and think beyond established boxes. Those interested in the state of the public sphere should enter leadership roles, do what they promised to the best of their ability, and know when to leave.

It’s time to focus on the future that you voted for. The transition to that future must be as seamless as possible.

As per the new constitution, Emmett E. de Kanter ’24 will immediately assume the role of President and serve until new elections have been held in several weeks. Emmett will be your final UC President, and he has selected Christopher T. Cantwell ’22-’23 to serve as Vice President because of his independence and integrity. Chris is a Computer Science and Government concentrator in Leverett House who has served as a mediator on the UC this past semester, helped write the new constitution, and has years of nonpartisan civic experience from work with the Harvard Votes Challenge.

Emmett and Chris will not run for elected positions in the HUA. Their top priority is a smooth, successful transition, with elections staying as civil and policy-focused as possible.

I would like to thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving as your president. I’m grateful that we were able to launch Research Snackchats to connect students with experienced researchers and mentors, improve the Harvard administration’s transparency on Covid-19 policies, pilot new approaches to digital democracy, work with Harvard University Dining Services to offer new options and improve food quality, and help establish Double Concentrations to provide more academic flexibility.

As of this morning, every Harvard undergraduate has received a $10 Crimson Cash refund from the UC’s financial dissolution. I hope that this small gesture (toward printing, laundry, or food) begins to restore confidence in what student governance at Harvard is capable of.

In my last weeks at Harvard, I look forward to getting lost in used bookstores, playing video games like Tales of Symphonia and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, and spending time with friends and teammates. I am excited for my spring season with HVL (the varsity men’s lightweight rowing team), the first place at Harvard where I could be accepted for who I am, with all my imperfections.

To everyone who believes in a better Harvard — thank you so much for being part of this journey. I wish you the best for the rest of your time at Harvard and beyond.

I leave you with a quote from “The True Harvard,” a 1903 speech by Harvard philosopher William James:

“As a nursery for independent and lonely thinkers I do believe that Harvard still is in the van. Here they find the climate so propitious that they can be happy in their very solitude. The day when Harvard shall stamp a single hard and fast type of character upon her children, will be that of her downfall. Our undisciplinables are our proudest product. Let us agree together in hoping that the output of them will never cease.”

Michael Y. Cheng ’22, a History and Mathematics concentrator in Quincy House, was president of the Undergraduate Council.

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