Last spring, as Walter Morris ’73, M.B.A. ’75, prepared to become president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), he was eagerly anticipating his 35th class reunion. For Morris, this reunion was another cherished opportunity to renew old friendships, and, in many instances, an occasion to build new ones. Class reunions are the HAA’s flagship alumni event, the heart of the HAA’s ambitious goal “to make your Harvard experience last a lifetime.” And Morris, whose personal involvement with the HAA board dates back 15 years, remained committed to making that happen.
A year later, Morris looks back on his term with pride, even as he looks forward to the leadership of the board’s incoming president, Teresita Alvarez-Bjelland ’76, M.B.A. ’79. “One of my key initiatives this past year was to help ‘move the dial’ by making small but observable steps to advance the HAA’s two broad missions,” Morris explained. “We worked hard to promote vibrant and dynamic communities of fellow Harvard alumni in cities around the United States and abroad, and we helped our alumni foster stronger links with the University. I believe our committees made excellent progress in both of these areas.”
Examples include the growth of the HAA’s Shared Interest Group (SIG) program, which jumped from 21 to 30 member organizations. These HAA-recognized alumni groups complement an extensive network of Harvard Clubs. In December, the HAA sponsored a Global Networking Night, which brought together more than 1,500 students and alumni, including recent graduates, for informal discussions on career guidance and planning.
The event was held in 15 cities, including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Toronto, and London. The Schools and Scholarships Committee, among the most active of the HAA’s extensive volunteer network, worked hand in hand with the Admissions Office to interview a record-setting number of Harvard applicants.
Morris attributed these success stories and his own effectiveness to the “wonderful talent, energy, and remarkable commitment of the board and staff,” adding, “Teresita has been a terrific friend and first vice president this past year, and I know she will provide outstanding leadership as the next HAA president.
“She brings incredible insight, energy, and enthusiasm, which have been her trademarks during her more than 15 years of board service. It is hard to remember anyone who has served in more volunteer and leadership roles than Teresita: alumni interviewer, elected director, committee chair, vice president — however, I believe her most recent role as a Harvard parent is the one that she truly cherishes.”
Alvarez-Bjelland, who will take over from Morris this month (June), praised her friend and colleague for his leadership. “It is very reassuring to know that Walter will remain on the executive committee,” she said, “and that I can count on his experience and wisdom as I embark on my term. Looking ahead, I’m excited to continue working with the board, Jack Reardon (HAA executive director), and his committed team as we build on the initiatives started by Walter and others before him.”
The HAA’s first Hispanic president, and only the second international resident to assume the role, Alvarez-Bjelland, who lives in Oslo, Norway, exemplifies Harvard’s commitment to diversity and global reach. The HAA, too, is committed to further engaging alumni worldwide; indeed, Alvarez-Bjelland intends to focus on Harvard’s role in global public service, specifically public health, education, and public policy. “I have always believed strongly in public service, and in today’s economic situation, it is even more relevant,” she said. She pointed to the extraordinary work of not only the faculty but also the undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni who are involved in myriad public service projects.
“As the umbrella organization for all Harvard alumni, the HAA focuses on public service that enables us to participate in worthy projects while also showcasing University-wide initiatives and Harvard’s global reach. I am thrilled and proud of the fact that there are so many Harvard-related public service projects under way. For our alumni around the world,” Alvarez-Bjelland concluded, “this will be an opportunity to learn about the important activities of the entire University — not just their School. And I hope we can inspire others to join in.”