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Remarks at the Harvard Bridge Program’s Citizenship Celebration Dinner

Inn at Harvard, Cambridge, Mass.

My job here is to say “thank you.” Thank you to all the students who have done such a splendid job of being teachers. We’ve tried to teach you here as students, but the teaching we’ve done may not be as large as the teaching you have done. So thank you, Russell and Laura, and thank you to all the students for what I think is a wonderful act of idealism that has added a lot to our community.

Thank you to you, Vice President Zeckhauser, who was involved in this program at the start, and to all of the other administrators who have made this program an important part of the education that Harvard provides. Harvard does a lot of different kinds of education: we do executive education, we do undergraduate education, we do education of graduate students, but I’m not sure we do any kind of education that is more important than preparing members of our community to be citizens of our country. So thank you to everyone who is involved in providing that education.

But the real heroes here – the people I really want to thank – are the 21 people who are part of our community and who have become American citizens.

First, thank you for the work that you do for Harvard. You know, when people think about Harvard, they think about professors and they think about students, and sometimes they even think about administrators, deans, vice presidents, and presidents. But I’ll tell you one thing about Harvard. All the faculty go away every summer, all the students go away every summer, and the University somehow keeps right on going. If all the people on the University staff went away for even one week, the result would be complete and utter chaos. That says something about who’s doing the really important work at the University. So all of you on the University staff, whether you work in the libraries or whether you work on the lawns, whether you work in a lounge or whether you work in a laboratory, thank you for what you are doing for our University. We would not be the kind of university that we are without you.

Let me say something else quickly. One of the proudest moments of my life was the moment when in Washington, I took an oath of office as the secretary of the Treasury to uphold the Constitution of the United States. You took a very similar oath when you became American citizens. It was a special moment for me, as I’m sure it was a special moment for you. Let me say – speaking as an American, speaking as someone who has tried to serve our country, and as someone who has studied the history of our country – our country has been made by people who came from other places, settled in the United States, strived to become American citizens, for themselves, for their families, for their children.

And so, it is not just as a representative of Harvard that I thank you for all that you contribute and all that you’re going to contribute. But as an American, I welcome you to your citizenship in the United States, and thank you for the difference that you make to our country. Our country is not perfect. Our country makes mistakes – sometimes our country makes important mistakes. But I believe that it is a nation that is committed to giving everyone a voice and a chance, it is a nation that is in many ways a beacon. And it will be a much better, a much stronger, a much kinder nation because of your inclusion, and because of programs like the one we celebrate today. This is as important a graduation in its way as the graduation the University will have in June. And I congratulate you, all new American citizens, and I thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.

Thank you very much.