At last fall’s Freshman Convocation, Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) President Catherine A. “Kate” Gellert ’93 did the math for her young audience. “There are more alumni than there are faculty and students,” she recalls saying, “so our alumni are in the best position to carry the Harvard flag out into the world beyond 02138. That’s why alumni are important. That’s why they matter to the University.”
Gellert has proudly carried that flag as an alumna, especially during the past year as HAA president. Now in the final weeks of her tenure, she reflected on her service and the experiences that have energized and inspired her.
“This year gave us the opportunity to get alumni engaged and informed about The Harvard Campaign,” she says. “For the HAA, the campaign spurred us to develop new ways to connect our alumni with the University and with one another. We launched HarvardX for Alumni and the ‘Your Harvard’ event series, for example — the latter will bring President [Drew] Faust’s vision for the future of the University to a broad base of alumni.”
Gellert continues to be amazed by that base, particularly the alumni volunteers in their home communities who make the “transformative experience” of attending Harvard come alive in ways she had not anticipated. “The global community that volunteers time for community outreach, student interviews, building Harvard’s presence, and in so many other ways, shows me how deep our alumni relationships run.”
Those relationships undoubtedly extend to incoming HAA president Cynthia A. Torres ’80, M.B.A. ’84, who will focus her term on sustaining and supporting alumni as leaders in their communities, in their professions, and in service to society. Torres’ own HAA leadership is expansive. Most recently, she led an executive committee task force on Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) in an effort to better connect SIG members with the University. The HAA has nearly 50 SIGs with approximately 20,000 alumni participants.
“Kate and I share a commitment to the importance of alumni engagement and connection with Harvard,” says Torres, currently the HAA’s first vice president. “I have been deeply involved with alumni activities since my own graduation, and that has added richness and depth to my adult life. For me, the true magic of Harvard is in its people — its extraordinary students, faculty, staff, and alumni. My years at Harvard were completely transformational, and it has been rewarding to be able to give back to the University that has meant so much to me.”
Looking ahead, Torres is excited about the upcoming year and her new role. “I love my involvement with the HAA,” she explains. “I’ve always felt a deep sense of community with Harvard alumni and am truly honored to be given this position of trust and responsibility.”
As for Gellert and her work on behalf of the HAA, Torres is an unabashed admirer. “Kate has been an inspiration to me,” Torres says. “She is extremely gracious, poised, and welcoming — she radiates goodwill at every alumni gathering. Kate has been a terrific torchbearer for our alumni.”
The feeling is mutual. “Cynthia brings a wonderful intellect, a special warmth, and a real enthusiasm that will resonate with our alumni,” notes Gellert. “It is hard to conclude service after a very brief year, but it is easier to do when you are passing the baton to somebody who will carry it even farther. I wish Cynthia all the best.”