Today, I speak from this podium a final time as your president. As I depart, I want to thank all of you - students, faculty, alumni and staff - with whom I have been privileged to work over these past years. Some of us have had our disagreements, but I know that which unites us transcends that which divides us.
Some things look different to me than they did five years ago. The world that today’s Harvard’s graduates are entering is a profoundly different one than the world administrators entered.
It is a world where opportunities have never been greater for those who know how to teach children to read, or those who know how to distribute financial risk; never greater for those who understand the cell and the pixel; never greater for those who can master, and navigate between, legal codes, faith traditions, computer platforms, political viewpoints.
It is also a world where some are left further and further behind - those who are not educated, those trapped in poverty and violence, those for whom equal opportunity is just a hollow phrase.
Scientific and technological advances are enabling us to comprehend the furthest reaches of the cosmos, the most basic constituents of matter, and the miracle of life.
At the same time, today, the actions, and inaction, of human beings imperil not only life on the planet, but the very life of the planet.
Globalization is making the world smaller, faster and richer. Still, 9/11, avian flu, and Iran remind us that a smaller, faster world is not necessarily a safer world.
Our world is bursting with knowledge - but desperately in need of wisdom. Now, when sound bites are getting shorter, when instant messages crowd out essays, and when individual lives grow more frenzied, college graduates capable of deep reflection are what our world needs.
For all these reasons I believed - and I believe even more strongly today - in the unique and irreplaceable mission of universities.
Universities are where the wisdom we cannot afford to lose is preserved from generation to generation. Among all human institutions, universities can look beyond present norms to future possibilities, can look through current considerations to emergent opportunities.
And among universities, Harvard stands out. With its great tradition, its iconic reputation, its remarkable network of 300,000 alumni, Harvard has never had as much potential as it does now.
And yet, great and proud institutions, like great and proud nations at their peak, must surmount a very real risk: that the very strength of their traditions will lead to caution, to an inward focus on prerogative and to a complacency that lets the world pass them by.
And so I say to you that our University today is at an inflection point in its history. At such a moment, there is temptation to elevate comfort and consensus over progress and clear direction, but this would be a mistake. The University’s matchless resources - human, physical, financial - demand that we seize this moment with vision and boldness. To do otherwise would be a lost opportunity. We can spur great deeds that history will mark decades and even centuries from now. If Harvard can find the courage to change itself, it can change the world.