President Levin, members of the Corporation, members of the faculty, students, parents, and extended members of the university family,
I am honored to convey to this gathering the good wishes of the men and women of Harvard University. And I am gratified to share with President Tilghman the responsibility of representing the nation’s institutions of higher learning at a ceremonial event of such importance.
Three hundred years ago, an epic chapter opened in the book of our national experience when the Puritan divines of Connecticut embarked on a lively new enterprise.
Tired of sending their children to Massachusetts Bay for schooling; tired in particular of the quarrelsome Cambridge institution erected for that purpose, they launched the Collegiate School, soon to be renamed for all eternity Yale College.
It was a decision of immense moment for New England, for education, and for the future growth of the United States of America.
And frankly, we have never forgiven you.
For three centuries, your very existence has been a gentle reminder of Harvard’s imperfections. More than one observer recorded his opinion that it was not only Yale’s potential, but also Harvard’s deficiency that impelled Yale’s founders to cross the Rubicon – or in this case, the Quinnipiac.
And then there’s the whole business about mottoes. Harvard’s is Veritas. Yale chose “Lux et Veritas.” The message was unmistakeable: Harvard lacks Lux. We were judged, in other words, to be in the dark. Thank you. On the athletic fields, in the libraries, and the laboratories — we shall see.
A certain ambivalence surrounds Harvard and Yale’s connection.
In the spirit of Veritas, I should rely on your discretion not to pass the word back to Cambridge that I was born at the Yale New Haven hospital.
I must also say that I was initially struck to learn that of Yale’s twelve founders, eleven earned their degree in Cambridge – a statistic that would seem more impressive were it not for the fact that there was nowhere else to go to college north of Williamsburg.
And finally, three years ago, when a member of the Harvard faculty was named to the Yale Corporation, President Levin’s comments captured the nature of Yale’s limited spirit of generosity by remarking that, “obviously you wouldn’t want a Corporation composed of fourteen Harvard professors – but one shouldn’t hurt.”
We joke about our rivalry, without ever fully concealing our robust mutual admiration. In a real and deep sense, we are colleagues spurring each other forward and promoting values that we both share.
1701 is a long time ago, but it is not so long ago. We were allied then, and we have been allies since, as the world has changed around us and occasionally because of us. Harvard and Yale’s audacious quest for truth quickened the quest for liberty that reached its full flowering in Philadelphia 75 years after Yale’s founding. Harvard and Yale stood together inside Independence Hall, just as they have always stood together when freedom needed defenders, from Antietam to Guadalcanal to the World Trade Center.
Forty years ago, a Harvard alumnus, John F. Kennedy, reminded a Yale audience much like this one today of our common mission that “a great university is always enlisted against the spread of illusion and on the side of reality.”
Now more than ever, the values we share – the commitment to truth, to tolerance, to the power of ideas – has great importance. We have been reminded these last days that there is dark as well as light in the world, courage as well as fright, and wrong as well as right.
Great universities connect us not just with our history and our values, but also with each other, and our future. Harvard today is proud to join in celebrating the greatness that is Yale University.