There is no question that the faculty, the alumni, the students, and the
benefactors of Harvard have used their power to improve the lives of people
here and around the world. But can we do more? Can Harvard dedicate its
intellect to improving the lives of people who will never even hear its
Let me make a request of the deans and the professors - the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum, and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:
Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems?
Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world's worst inequities?
Should Harvard students learn about the depth of global poverty ... the
prevalence of world hunger ... the scarcity of clean water ...the girls
kept out of school ... the children who die from diseases we can cure?
These are not rhetorical questions - you will answer with your policies.
My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here - never
stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding,
she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage
that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at
the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and
at the close of the letter she said: "From those to whom much is given,
much is expected."
In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates
here to take on an issue - a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become
a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would
be phenomenal. But you don't have to do that to make an impact. For a few
hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get
informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find
ways to cut through them.
You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time. As you leave Harvard, you have technology that members of my class never had. You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have. And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with very little effort. You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.
And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect
on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will
judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also
on how well you have addressed the world's deepest inequities ... on how
well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you
but their humanity.