As prepared for delivery
A gate leading into Harvard Yard bears the words of Harvard’s most important and influential president, Charles William Eliot. It reads: “Enter to grow in wisdom, depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”
Today we are privileged to honor 16 men who served their country and humankind with the very highest distinction. On this Veterans Day, we honor them as the finest exemplars of all Harvard students and graduates who have served the military and the nation since the very first days of the republic. Many of these are named on the walls that surround us here, and on the walls of Memorial Hall nearby.
The 16 men whose courage, service, and sacrifice we celebrate today performed extraordinary deeds. Deeds that remind us of the meaning of character, of devotion, of moral as well as military achievement. These men rallied troops when it meant almost certain death. They fought on when wounded. They volunteered for dangerous missions. They assaulted enemy positions without regard for their own safety. They saved the lives of other soldiers at great risk to themselves, whether — as one did — dragging an injured man from a fiery ship boiler, or, in more than one case, offering the supreme sacrifice by throwing themselves on an enemy grenade. From Gettysburg to Spotsylvania, to San Juan Hill, to the Ardennes Forest, to the Normandy beaches, to Korea and Vietnam, these soldiers have fought across two centuries and around the world.
We at Harvard are proud to have been a part of the lives of these remarkable Americans, proud to recognize and claim them as our own. And we are very grateful to those who have undertaken the historical investigation that led up to this day that has made these names known to us all at last. As current and future students enter Harvard’s gates to grow in wisdom, let us work to ensure that it be not just the wisdom of the mind, but also the wisdom of the heart — the courage, the character, and that profound sense of obligation, service, and citizenship so powerfully represented by the men we honor today.
Thank you very much.
– Drew Gilpin Faust