“Harvard Voices” is a collection of excerpts from famous speeches given at Harvard University over the past 100 years. These voices represent Harvard’s collective memory and continuing dialogue of ideas. The dialogue suggests the best of Harvard speaking to itself and to the world, and the best of the world speaking to Harvard.
If there is a unifying theme, it is the sheer diversity of these articulate and eloquent voices. They speak to one another through questions, creative tensions, collaborations, and contradictions. And they even provide humor.
To listen to these historic voices, visit our Harvard Voices playlist on Soundcloud.
Harvard Voices is also available on iTunes U. Click the “View in iTunes” button beneath the “Harvard Voices” logo and your computer will launch the iTunes software and take you directly to the place where you can down load the individual tracks or the entire collection to your computer and then share them with your iPod, iPhone or iPad. If you are reading this on a iOS device, simply click the link and your iTunes store will open to the “Harvard Voices” collection and you can download directly from there.
Selected transcripts from Harvard Voices
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936, Harvard’s 300th)
It is the part of Harvard and America to stand for the freedom of the human mind, and to carry the torch of truth.
Samuel Eliot Morison (1936, Harvard’s 300th)
And so, with what seems to us like incredible optimism, this colony of 12,000 people, 2,500 miles from the nearest university, established a college to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity.
Winston Churchill (1943)
I know of no reason for supposing that the heaviest sacrifices in life and blood do not lie before the British and American Armed Services. When you find yourselves alongside of our sailors and soldiers in the battlefields and the combats of 1943 and 1944, you will feel that we are your worthy brothers in arms, and you will know that we shall never tire nor weaken but march with you into any corner of the world that may be necessary to establish the reign of justice and of law among men.
George C. Marshall (1947)
It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.
T.S. Eliot (1947)
The winter evening settles down with smell of steaks in passageways. 6 o’clock. The burnt-out ends of smoky days. And now a gusty shower wraps the grimy scraps of withered leaves about your feet.
e.e. cummings (early 1950s)
Officially, Harvard presented me with a smattering of languages and sciences; with a glimpse of Homer and a more-than glimpse of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes; and a deep glance at Dante and Shakespeare. Unofficially, she gave me my first taste of independence and the truest friends any man will ever enjoy.
Robert Frost (early 1950s)
The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
John F. Kennedy (1956)
If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little place in which to live on this Commencement day in 1956.
W.E.B. Dubois (early 1960s)
Harvard was in an exceptional state of being at that time. .. the men who had come in the last few years wanted it to be more of a national institution, and they therefore offered scholarships…that landed me at Harvard, at the time of great intellectual activity, a new freedom of thought and action.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1962)
…Non-cooperation with evil, as Thoreau would say, is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you.
Leonard Bernstein (1973)
The time back in 1937 when I first heard Aaron Copeland’s piano variations, I fell in love with the music, it seemed so fierce and poetic and utterly new. [plays notes]. This music opened up new worlds of musical possibilities to me, and I wrote a raving report on it for my aesthetics course.
Professors Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg (1970s)
Glashow: …Almost precisely 3.1 gEV, and thus they claimed they had discovered a new particle which they called J. And this is the thing which is driving us all crazy: This new particle – unpredicted, beautiful new.
Weinberg: We now have come to realize that we have at hand a mathematical framework for understanding all of the particles of nature and all of their interactions and that theory is called the quantum theory of fields.
Barbara Jordan (1977)
What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1978)(read by Gleb Sidorkin)
A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.
Mother Teresa (1982)
I have no gold and silver to give to the American people, but I give my sisters, and I hope together with them you will go in search, like Mary, go in haste to find the poor. And if you find them, if you come to know them, you will love them, and if you love them, you will do something for them.
Seamus Heaney (1986)
… Here, imagine
A spirit moves, John Harvard walks the yard,
The books stand open and the gates unbarred.
Colin Powell (1993 Commencement)
We will be judged kindly if we renew the values of our communities—values of service, of family, of compassion, of wisdom. We can’t aspire to greatness unless we begin with a foundation as well of values.
Vaclav Havel (1995 Commencement)
A better alternative for the future of humanity clearly lies in imbuing our civilization with a spiritual dimension.
Madeleine Albright (1997 Commencement)
There is no certain roadmap to success, either for individuals or for generations. Ultimately, it is a matter of judgment, a question of choice. In making that choice, let us remember that there is not a page of American history of which we are proud that was authored by a chronic complainer or prophet of despair. We are doers.
Nelson Mandela (1998 Special Convocation)
We constantly need to remind ourselves that the freedoms which democracy bring will remain empty shells if they are not accompanied by real and tangible improvements in the material lives of the millions of ordinary citizens of those countries.
Alan Greenspan (1999 Commencement)
You have already made the best investment there is: education. A crucial challenge of education is to transform skills and intelligence into wisdom, into a process of thinking capable of forming truly new insights.
John Lithgow (2005 Commencement)
Be creative. Be useful. Be practical. Be generous. Simple as that.
Bill Gates (2007 Commencement)
What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but always challenging.
J.K. Rowling (2008 Commencement)
We do not need magic to change the world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
Al Gore (2008 Sustainability Event)
We are one people living on one planet. We have a very few short years within which to make a dramatic change in the way we organize and conduct global civilization.
Ted Kennedy (2008 Special Convocation)
And for all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. No, there is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage. We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.