On a fundraising trip to southern Florida last week, President Lawrence H. Summers dropped into Hialeah High School, an urban, mostly Latino public school in Miami-Dade County that, until recently, was sending just over half its graduates to college.
Yet with four of its alumni in Harvard’s class of 2006 and two more accepted for the class of 2007, this high-school-on-the-rise provided an eager audience for Summers’ remarks on the opportunities education can bring students at Hialeah – and the importance of such students to universities like Harvard.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in being a far more open country, but there is nothing more important to the future of our country than that places like Harvard and other great universities … be open and inclusive,” he said Thursday morning (March 6).
In his opening remarks to a question-and-answer session with the 400 students, parents, and administrators gathered in the school’s interactive media center, Summers extolled the value of a higher education and spoke strongly on questions about affirmative action.
At Harvard, he said, if a student successfully challenges a professor or disproves a scientific fact, he or she is congratulated, making Harvard and other universities unique in the world.
“They are places where what matters is not the idea of authority … but what matters is the authority of the idea,” he said.
Fielding students’ questions about admission to the University, he encouraged students not to be daunted by tuition figures.
“Harvard College is a place that any student can come to regardless of their family’s financial position,” he said, adding that six in 10 Harvard College students receive scholarships. “No one should hesitate to apply to Harvard because they think they won’t be able to afford to come.”
Summers shared the discussion with Hialeah seniors and Harvard admits Odeviz Soto and Rosie Roca, both recent immigrants who learned to speak English since coming to the United States, as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology-bound senior Rashida Nek. He touched the audience by reiterating the University’s commitment to affirmative action.
“I am here to tell you that affirmative action has not ended, affirmative action should not end, and I don’t think affirmative action will end,” he told a student.
Affirmative action is not an act of charity, he said, but a strategy for excellence, akin to finding the largest fishing hole to catch the biggest fish.
“If you are determined to be open to students of every income class, every religion, every racial background, every part of the United States, then you are fishing in the largest possible lake. You will end up better and stronger and smarter as a university,” he said.