I'm Harvard's Most Successful Dropout
Thank you. President Bok, former President Rudenstine, incoming President Faust,
members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, parents, and especially, the graduates.
I've been waiting more than 30 years to say this: "Dad, I always told you I'd come back and get my degree."
I want to thank Harvard for this honor.
I'll be changing my job next year, and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume.
I applaud the graduates for taking a much more direct route to your degrees.
For my part, I'm just happy that the Crimson called me "Harvard's most successful dropout."
I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class. I did the best of everyone who failed.
But taking a serious look back, I do have one big regret.
I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world-
the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.
I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics.
I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.
But humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries-but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.
Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity,
reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.
I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country.
And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries.
It took me decades to find out.
You graduates came to Harvard at a different time.
You know more about the world's inequities than the classes that came before.
In your years here, I hope you've had a chance to think about how, in this age of accelerating technology,
we can finally take on these inequities, and we can solve them.
Now, this task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge can change the world.
Yes, inequity has been with us forever, but the new tools we have to cut through complexity have not been with us forever.
They are new. They can help us make the most of our caring-and that's why the future can be different from the past.
The defining and ongoing innovations of this age-biotechnology, the personal computer, and the Internet-
give us a chance we've never had before to end extreme poverty and end death from preventable disease.
In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue,
a complex problem-a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. Don't let complexity stop you.
Be activists. Take on big inequities. I feel sure it will be one of the great experiences of your lives.
You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time.
As you leave Harvard, you have technology that members of my class never had.
You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have.
And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience
that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with modest effort.
You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.
And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now
and reflect on what you've done with your talent and your energy.
I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone,
but also on how well you have addressed the world's deepest inequities,
on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.