Harvard Plus: Edification in Numbers

Sanford Keziah, MTS '88. Photo: Steve Gilbert

On graduation day, just before commencing the HDS Diploma Award Ceremony on the Andover lawn, Dean Graham leaned over to me and said, “I love graduation because it’s a day of pure happiness.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.

The day was filled with celebration and engagement. Eric Gutierrez, MDiv ’05, gave a poignant and inspiring class speech that gave us much to think about and a lot of laughs along the way.

As diplomas were presented, we then heard statements about each of the graduates and their highly eclectic future plans. (And I should also mention the pleasure of meeting them in person and watching their diverse performances during the Commencement worship service, the evening before.)

Commencement certainly was a day of pure happiness. And as I now reflect on the day, I’m struck by how important it was for me, personally, to be there. It was a day filled with inspiration, full of hope and promise, even intoxicating in its demonstration of talent and conveyance of power. It had been 17 years since I last attended a Harvard graduation ceremony—my own—and I’d forgotten how powerful graduation can be.

Graduation brought into focus both the privileges we alumni/ae share as graduates of Harvard, and the responsibilities with which we are charged as graduates of the Divinity School in particular.

Harvard gives us many privileges. As graduates of Harvard, we have the privileges of not only being connected to an inordinately talented community of fellow alumni/ae, but also of being associated with a university whose credibility, prestige, and gravitas are unsurpassed.

Harvard unites us with an amazing group of peers, bestows its power and establishment onto us, and enables all of us to benefit from the doors the Harvard name opens and the access it gives to us throughout our culture.

But attending graduation demonstrated to me that our particular experience of Harvard doesn’t end there. Hearing the class speech, and meeting the new class of graduates and learning of their future plans, drove home just how unique our responsibilities are as alumni/ae.

Because we are not just graduates of Harvard; we are also graduates of Divinity.

If Harvard gives us the privileges of establishment and power, then Divinity gives us the responsibilities of living out our callings and convictions. If Harvard lends us its credentials and prestige, then Divinity imbues us with the authority and license to act on our beliefs and to be the voice of our conscience regardless of how alone we may feel in the wilderness.

All of us entered an environment that stood for collided paradigms when we enrolled in a school that combined the seemingly disparate notions of Harvard and Divinity. And while many of us may not have known exactly how this mixture—of power plus authority, of establishment plus license—would work into our lives, we no doubt knew that we were playing with a very combustible, if less than popular, combination.

I need only to think of my three closest friends from HDS for examples of how Harvard plus Divinity is changing our world by colliding empowerment with conviction.

I think of my friend Burns Stanfield, MDiv ’88, who acted on the outlandish conviction that a dying Protestant church in the middle of a working-class Catholic neighborhood should be revived into a thriving oasis of spirituality, culture, and community.

I think of my friend J.B. Schramm, MDiv ’90, who was profiled last year in The New York Times for his work with low income high school students. J.B.’s College Summit has helped nearly 5,000 students nationwide gain college admission by giving them the know-how to play the admissions game, and by helping colleges and universities understand the potential economic benefits of this class of youth who were otherwise being written off as unviable.

And I think of my friend Keith Frome, MTS ’89, who was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal as a headmaster who is pioneering a new trend in secondary education by developing a for-profit tutoring service whose profits support his not-forprofit school.

I’m sure that your class is no different than mine and that the Harvard Divinity School students with whom you graduated are equally busy colliding paradigms of their own to bring about a today that is more promising than yesterday.

Graduation certainly was a day of pure happiness—and hopefulness, and clarity, and conviction. It reminded me of something that I’ve known since my very first days at Harvard Divinity School: Harvard plus Divinity is a radically powerful combination that most people will never have the opportunity to understand.

But for those of us who did understand it, and who acted upon it by graduating from HDS, we are now members of a very special group of alumni/ae who share an entirely unique combination of privilege and responsibility.

As I said to the class of 2005 when I welcomed them into our Alumni/ae Association on graduation day, we may seem like a herd of cats whose members are highly individualized, even idiosyncratic. But there is edification in our numbers.

Being associated with HDS and its alumni/ae is an ongoing source of encouragement, inspiration, and accountability.

I would encourage you all to activate yourself in our association, share with us your stories, visit with us at the regional events around the country, or volunteer to join one of our committees. The only thing better than your Harvard Plus education will be your current life plus Harvard.