There are few words as universally recognizable as the name ‘Harvard.’ It may be pronounced differently in every language – in Chinese, for example, we say 哈佛 - but it never truly needs translation.
Think about this for a minute: What other words enjoy that same level of international weight? Mama. Papa. Harvard.
Of course, when Harvard was established in 1636, just under 400 years ago, nobody knew its name – not the student (there was ONE), not the teacher (there was also just ONE).
Nobody knew because the college only received its name two years later, when a minister by the name of John Harvard bequeathed half of his estate to the school.
In all, John Harvard gave the college 400 books and about £779 – in today’s terms, slightly less than USD $100,000. [$93,000 to be exact.] Not a bad price for buying worldwide recognition, especially when you consider that Harvard’s endowment was worth $37 billion in 2008. (NOTE: This dropped to $26 billion in 2009.)
Harvard. It’s rich and it’s famous.
That must be why it’s so special, right?
Time and again, in survey after survey, it has been ranked the best university in the world. What makes it so special?
If you actually talk to Harvard students – and I encourage you to do so with the ones here, after our panel – they will tell you that, in many ways, Harvard is a school like any other.
You have good students and mediocre students. You have good teachers and bad teachers. You attend class, you do your homework, and you study all night for tough exams.
Of course Harvard students are smart. The college receives 22,000 applicants per year and takes fewer than 1 in 10. You can bet that a fair share of these students are valedictorians, got perfect scores on their SATs, are sports stars, violin virtuosos, published authors…
But what makes Harvard such a special place isn’t that it’s famous, or that it’s rich, or that it’s number one.
What really makes Harvard special is the passion and dedication each student brings with him or her.
Some students like to joke that there must be thousands of clubs and organizations on campus – one for every student. This is just a joke, but what it tells us is that if a Harvard student has an interest in an activity, he or she is willing to start a group for it.
It could be to deliver meals to homeless people. It could be to analyze the stock market. It could be to discuss German films.
But the point is that what makes Harvard students different is that they consistently TAKE ACTION. They organize events. They plan gatherings. They attend practice. They pour their time and energy into activities that inspire them.
It is only natural that this in turn makes them a source of inspiration as well.
Please join me in welcoming the students from the 2010 Harvard College in Asia Program. (鄭永忠博士在2010年的哈佛教你入哈佛的歡迎詞。)