In Sanders Theatre, a venue often associated with thoughtful reflection, a packed-to-the-rafters audience joyfully shouted and screamed on Monday, with people rising to their feet for an extended ovation, cheering as if at a rock concert.
In a way, they were. Sixty Harvard Heroes, exceptional employees from across the University, basked in the applause of hundreds of colleagues, friends, and family members who gathered to recognize their achievements.
Before recognizing each of the 2017 honorees individually, Harvard President Drew Faust said the annual celebration was “a powerful reminder that our success as an institution, and as a community, is rooted not just in what we do, but how we do it.
“Our Harvard Heroes remind us that we can achieve great things while treating others with generosity, kindness, and respect. On behalf of the University, thank you all so much for your commitment and your contributions to our community.”
Among those recognized was Melanie Northrop, clinical social worker and case manager for Harvard University Health Services (HUHS). Northrop works with Harvard students, helping those who are struggling, at risk, or even hospitalized. She interfaces with Harvard’s systems — administrative, academic, and clinical — to make sure students get the support to succeed.
“Every one of us needs a safety net and an umbrella of resources,” Northrop said. “My job is to identify the safety net, and to help students understand the umbrella of resources that can be helpful to them.”
The greatest reward of her work, she said, is seeing students who took a “winding path” graduate at Commencement. On that day, she said, “I get to see those who have struggled, thrive.”
In celebration of the Harvard Divinity School bicentennial, Tracy Wall, program coordinator for its Women’s Studies in Religion Program, was recognized for helping curate “Faces of Divinity: Envisioning Inclusion for 200 Years.” Consisting of 21 exhibits, the collection documents the legacy of the nation’s first nonsectarian theological school, and was so well received that it has been extended through next year.
A self-described “historian by hobby,” Wall helped find and restore all 350 photographs, poems, paintings, and audio-visual items in the exhibit, sometimes even choosing which would go on display.
Tracing the lineage of the institution where she has worked for 15 years was “an incredible, wonderful learning opportunity,” she said. “Every single piece in the exhibit is interesting and beautiful. They’re not your average portraits: Each one tells its own story.”
Dominic Hall, curator of the Warren Anatomical Museum at the Center for the History of Medicine in Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library, was recognized for his work connecting the history of medicine to modern life.
Each day, Hall said, he finds “little nuggets” of history, and is sometimes “the first person presentation, whether to middle-school students or M.D.s, and making that historical connection relevant to the community, that’s what’s really satisfying.”
“I work in an extremely collaborative environment, and I’m very dependent upon the people I work with, so it’s hard to take an individual honor,” Hall added. “Any success I receive feels like a community success.”
Hall said the way Harvard recognizes its heroes each year is “amazing.”
“Harvard has such a high-achieving workforce, and you need a way to recognize those people,” he said. “Bringing everybody together to one place and recognizing all these different achievements, showcasing their great work … it’s wonderful.”