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Remarks at the Knafel Building dedication

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thank you Dean Kirby, and thank you for your extraordinary leadership in the international area at Harvard, both before you became dean, as head of the Asia Center, and since you became dean in driving these efforts forward.

This is a special moment for me in many respects. The most important respect I’ll talk about in just a minute. But when I walked in here I could not help but think that my first contact with Harvard University came roughly 40 feet above this point in 1972, when I worked as a research assistant for Marty Feldstein, whose office was on the fourth floor of the building that previously sat here. That building went through its major renovation and had a moment of being very new. But that building – that structure – was nothing compared to what we celebrate today.

Let me begin by talking a little bit about the man whose initial commitment to building the Center for Government and International Studies has made it possible for us to share the privilege of being here. Sid Knafel’s vision and leadership have helped not only to build this center, but to change the way Harvard is able to approach the study of international, political, economic, and cultural matters. Sid is someone who has shown not only remarkable generosity, but remarkable patience and modesty.

This project started out as something vastly different in size, in scope, and in cost, from what we have gathered here to celebrate today. It has morphed into quite a large complex of buildings, beautifully designed, and redesigned by Harry Cobb and his associates at Pei Cobb in New York. Not without the advice and involvement of the residents of the City of Cambridge.

Throughout the entire process, Sid remained keenly interested, deeply committed, and flexible. His openness and active participation provide us with a wonderful model for the way a true philanthropist best comports him or herself as the institution works towards achieving an important goal. To put it another way, there is never a quid pro quo where Sid Knafel is concerned. He gives because he perceives a need, even one that those who have the need may not fully perceive or yet be able to define. He gives because he wants to help address that need and fill that gap. His faith and belief in the students and faculty of this university is evident in everything he has done and everything he continues to do for us.

Sid, on behalf of the Harvard community, thank you very much.

I also want to thank the other individuals involved in making this new building a reality. The generosity of my good friend, Ambassador Richard Fisher, and his wife Nancy, and their family, has made possible the Fisher Family Commons where students and faculty can come together over a meal to share ideas and socialize.

Richard, you and your family have done much for our country, and we are delighted that you are doing this for Harvard. Thank you very much.

This building, this center, is important for Harvard, and it is important for the world, in rather parallel ways. Much of what is necessary to improve the world is greater communication and understanding, a breaking down of barriers, and a blurring of boundaries. Much of what is necessary to make Harvard stronger is a similar breaking down of barriers, blurring of boundaries, promotion of connection and communication. This center will make these changes possible.

Harvard’s new Center for Government and International Studies will house the Department of Government, in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, united, at last. CGIS will become the home for the Harvard University Asia Center, the Center for American Political Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Committee on African Studies, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Fairbanks Center for East Asian Research, the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, including a Harvard/M.I.T. Data Center, the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the Korean Institute, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

This is something very different than we have had in the past. This complex represents a real cultural shift — individual centers and departments are sharing economics and social common spaces. This new space facilitates interactions between colleagues from different centers, promotes scholarly pursuits, and also creates a sense of camaraderie among students and faculty working on many different questions, using many different methodologies, and thinking about many different parts of the world.

This kind of interaction has never been more important. Six-and-a-half-billion people live on this planet, and less than 5 percent of them live in this country. There is a story I like to tell of a prominent U.S. congressional leader who was asked some years ago whether he would be going to Europe during a forthcoming congressional recess. He responded, “Europe? I’ve already been there.” On one level you laugh, but on another level you understand some of the challenges that the United States is facing in the world today.

These are challenges that with Dean Kirby’s leadership, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is doing much to address through its commitment to provide international experiences for all of our students, through the broadening and infusion of international content into every aspect of the curriculum, through the graduate students we recruit to come to Harvard (sometimes to stay in the United States, sometimes to return to their native countries), and through the reflection, the dialogue, and the discussion that takes place on every imaginable international question. Whether it is the prevention of genocide, the solution to global warming, the promotion of commerce. All of this is going to take place in much richer and much deeper ways, and ways that make a much greater contribution because of this building.

Generations of students and faculty who will study and do their research here will owe an immense debt of gratitude to Sid Knafel. I am personally grateful to him. He has been so helpful to me ever since I became president of Harvard, giving me the benefit of his long experience with and his wisdom about the University, and beyond.

It is a pleasure to welcome to the podium the man of the hour, the man for whom this building is named, Sid Knafel.