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Remarks of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers

Opening reception for the Crimson Summer Academy, Cambridge, MA

I just want to say a couple of things. First, could all the parents and families of the Crimson Scholars stand up? I’m going to say the same thing now that I say each year at Commencement: none of us succeed on our own. The most important reason why any of us succeed is the help and love that they receive in the family. And so those of you who have won admission for your hard work to this program: never forget how much you owe your parents.

This program has a chance, I believe, to be a great opportunity for you. We can’t know what’s going to happen to any of us in the future. But the history of our country is a history of people who come from anywhere and everywhere and make an extraordinary difference.

I’ve been reading these last few days about someone who’s a kind of historical hero for me. Alexander Hamilton was the first treasury secretary of the United States, the first one to get to sign his name on the dollar bill. He was a person who at the Constitutional Convention caused our federal government to come together as a federal government, rather than just a lot of little countries. He was the person who established the whole system by which our country finances itself. He was the person who was really the brains behind a lot of what George Washington did.

We wouldn’t all be here if he had not done the things that he did. Many of the founding fathers of our country were people who were born on big plantations. Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean. He never knew his father. He didn’t come to this country until he was 12. But when he came here, he worked very, very hard. He studied very, very hard. He read every book that he could. And he is one of the most important people still shaping our country two hundred years later.

We are at a time in history when we need people who are prepared to work hard, who are prepared to think hard, who are prepared to make a difference, more than we ever have before. It is possible within my lifetime for scientists to have an idea to cure cancer. It is possible in your lifetime, and in mine, for us to craft a system that will cause there to be harmony among nations in a way that, God knows, we do not enjoy today. It is possible in the time that we’re alive that for the first time ever in our country, we can create a situation where every young person is educated, knows how to read, knows how to study, knows how to do mathematics.

Knowing too many urban areas in this country – nearly a third, in some cases even a half, of students aren’t able to graduate from high school – we are going to do something about that. We are going to take advantage of the opportunities and meet the challenges. We need everybody to try their best.

And institutions like Harvard here are privileged – look at how beautiful this is, look at how beautiful this Yard is – and it is wonderful that you have all this beauty. It is wonderful that we have our great traditions. It is wonderful that we have the greatest geniuses in the world thinking about everything from philosophy to medicine to literature to science.

But you know something? The most important thing that we can do is give people a chance to develop their own talents to change the world. And that is why we’re so excited to be inaugurating this program. That is why so many of our students are going to be working with you as their summer jobs. That is why so many of our faculty have agreed to talk about the field in which they are the leading experts in the world.

So we are trying to give a lot. We are going to ask something back. We are going to ask for your hard work and your effort. Because together, we can do great things.

Thank you very much.