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Day of Service kick-off remarks 2009

Cambridge, Mass.

It’s great to see all your faces and to think about what you will have accomplished by the time you come back to enjoy the barbecue this afternoon.

We should think about what you will accomplish in a variety of realms. One is, of course, what you will have achieved in what you will have painted or built – or in the relationship you will have begun with the person in the community with whom you work. But I think we also must think about what you will have accomplished in launching a number of careers in public service amongst those of you here at Harvard who will perhaps start here today as freshmen involved in community service projects. Then you may pursue the commitments throughout your careers here, the way many students with whom I’ve spoken with this morning have done so magnificently. So let this be a launch not just for a day, but for a deeper engagement by all of you here, and by all of us at Harvard, in advancing these community service goals.

Spontaneous applause at anytime is good. I think it’s very significant that this first University-wide day of service has been wholly student-led and student-organized. When I say wholly I don’t mean to underestimate the enormous amount of help that has come from faculty and staff and others. But the real engines behind this have been you students. I hope to reciprocate your bottom-up energies by seeing what I can accomplish top-down to support the engagement of students in the communities and the engagement of the University with our neighbors in the greater Boston area in the weeks and months and years to come.

I think that it’s safe to say that we at Harvard enjoy enormous privileges and enormous opportunities. We have the resources of a great university at our fingertips. We have access to the greatest minds of our generation. We get to engage with the subjects that most interest us. We have the world, in a sense, at our feet. But with these enormous assets come enormous responsibilities: a responsibility to use these resources for the betterment of the world, a responsibility to lead, a responsibility to set a positive example and to apply the fruits of our learning to the particular problems that face the world as a whole. So for this reason I think that a commitment to service here, by us at Harvard, and also beyond graduation, is very important.

Harvard students – undergraduate, graduate, professional – already provide significant impact in our community and well beyond. And many of you keep at it after graduation as well. I’ve been really impressed by learning how many people who start working in service projects during their time as undergraduates or graduate students here at Harvard continue to make these projects central to their lives, and stay in the Boston area, running, or participating and working, in a variety of endeavors across the metropolitan area.

I see today’s first University-wide day of service as an important affirmation and a symbol of Harvard’s already strong commitment and as a call for increasing this engagement. But I also see this day of service as a positive development in other ways, ways that matter a lot to me as a president. And that is that it is a truly University-wide initiative. There are volunteers from all Schools. They are all represented, as well as faculty, staff and alums. So in this shared commitment to service, you unite the University and you establish bridges as students and as active volunteers that will have an influence well beyond the school service activities in which you are involved today. You help show us what we can accomplish when we as a university can unite together in a common purpose.

So before I send you on your way and wish you good luck and a good time today, I just want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this possible: those sitting at this table of course, the Graduate Council, the Undergraduate Council, the Phillips Brooks House Association. I know that you have spent countless hours and countless energies organizing this event and I’m deeply grateful for that commitment and that engagement.

I hope the day of service will grow into a very strong tradition and that it will reach broadly across Harvard, across our neighboring communities, and across the world. I also hope that those of you that are undertaking service activities for the first time at Harvard find it so rewarding today that it becomes a part of your lives, and that you remind us all how it is a part of the life of a university. Thank you very much.

– Drew Gilpin Faust