Campus & Community

A real sense of belonging

3 min read

Incoming Harvard Alumni Association president aims to continue the people-centered leadership of her predecessor

For Martin J. “Marty” Grasso Jr. ’78, what truly sets Harvard apart are the exceptional people. Speaking to graduating seniors at Class Day a year ago as the incoming president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), Grasso reflected on the vibrant and long-lasting relationships he has enjoyed during his more than 40-year association with the University. “I have come to realize that the greatest thing that Harvard gives us,” he said, “is us.”

His experiences as HAA president over the past year have only reinforced this idea. Meeting his fellow alumni across the country and around the world, Grasso has been struck by their enduring enthusiasm for Harvard, no matter how many years or miles removed they are from Cambridge.

“Alumni are our ambassadors, and I’ve never seen that more than I have this year,” he said. “They’ve maintained this extraordinary thirst for knowledge of their alma mater, and they exhibit a keen interest in continuing the process of collaborative learning that they experienced while they were at Harvard.”

As he approaches the end of his term, Grasso says he is amazed at how quickly it flew, but also excited to turn the presidency over to his successor, Susan Morris Novick ’85. “I’m really looking forward to her year of service and our continued collaboration,” he said.

Novick, in turn, praised Grasso for his infectious energy and joyful leadership. “Marty’s passion for Harvard and for the alumni is so palpable that when you’re with him, you’re having a great time no matter what you’re doing,” she said.

Novick first got involved in alumni service as a volunteer interviewer for applicants to Harvard College, which led her to join the Harvard Club of Long Island and eventually become its president. After spending time with HAA staff on a Harvard Alumni Travels trip, Novick was invited to serve on the HAA Board of Directors. She is now in her 10th year on the board, including the last three on the executive committee. “I’ve enjoyed it all along the way,” she said. “It’s really been a gift.”

There are more than 330,000 Harvard alumni in more than 200 countries. Making sure they feel welcome in the HAA will be a point of emphasis for Novick during her presidency. “We’ll be working to engage the alumni community in all of its diversity,” she said, noting the HAA will enhance programming to provide even greater opportunities for alumni to connect to the University and to one another, wherever they are in the world. “We want all alumni to feel a real sense of belonging to the HAA.”

In keeping with the theme of globalism, Novick also plans to promote discussion about Harvard’s role in the world. “Harvard’s ideas and ideals have great social impact,” she said. “We’ll be focusing on some examples of the many ways faculty, students, and alumni are addressing global challenges.”

Like Grasso, Novick draws inspiration from the people she has met through Harvard, and she looks forward to striking up many new conversations and friendships in the year ahead. “Harvard alumni are some of the most interesting people in the world. Everyone has a story,” she said. “This is an extraordinary community.”