A dedicated public servant, Nobel laureate, and preeminent leader in addressing the challenges of climate change, Al Gore ’69, L.L.D. ’94, has been selected by the Harvard College Class of 2019 to address the graduating seniors as part of the annual Class Day celebration on May 29, the day before Harvard’s 368th Commencement.
“It is an absolute honor to be able to welcome Al Gore as our Class Day speaker,” said Cleanna Crabill ’19, program marshal and co-chair of the speaker selection committee. “For more than four decades of service he has modeled leadership based on civic duty, commitment to the public good, and a persistent, forward-looking vision. What’s more, he has shown us the necessity of being a proactive citizen of the planet. We are unbelievably excited to have a speaker who has consistently challenged the moral imagination and continues the call to action for the most imminent issues of our future.”
Gore’s long career in public service had its start in 1976 when he began the first of three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and again in 1990, and he was inaugurated as the 45th U.S. vice president on Jan. 20, 1993, serving eight years in the Clinton administration.
In 2007, he was named a Nobel Peace Prize laureate with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.” The year prior he and his work were the subject of the documentary movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won two Academy Awards. The film’s follow-up, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” came out in 2017.
Gore has been successful in advancing global action on the climate crisis in the international political arena and played a key role in brokering the Kyoto Protocol, the first major international agreement on the climate crisis, in 1997.
He currently serves as chairman of the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit organization he founded nearly 15 years ago. A best-selling author, Gore has published five books, “Earth in the Balance,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Assault on Reason,” “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” and “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.”
“More than ever, we need people to be inspired to serve, to see a need for change and to work toward progress,” said First Marshal Catherine Zhang ’19, co-chair of the speaker selection committee. “Al Gore has demonstrated unwavering service leadership, and his work has resonated deeply with a new generation of young people, shaping how so many of us think about service, our planet, and our place within the world.”
The themes of leadership, conservation, and stewardship were evident during Gore’s Harvard years. He wrote his senior thesis in the History Department on “The Impact of Television on the Conduct of the Presidency, 1947–1969,” and during his College years met Roger Revelle, who would become a big influence on the future vice president. Revelle, a renowned oceanographer, founded the University’s Center for Population Studies and was the first scientist to warn of global warming.
In April, Gore honored another of his Harvard mentors, Richard Neustadt, the late Kennedy School professor and leading presidential scholar. He visited campus to take part in the Harvard Kennedy School’s discussion about the American presidency in the 21st century, a panel that honored Neustadt’s legacy on what would have been his 100th birthday.
A distinguished alumnus, Gore returned to campus in 1994, to give the address at Harvard’s 343rd Commencement, 25 years after he graduated.
In 2008, he delivered the keynote address in a multiday celebration of the University’s commitment to sustainability, helping then-President Drew Faust launch Harvard’s new greenhouse gas reduction initiative. In Faust’s speech at Tercentenary Theatre, she noted that the Nobel Peace Prize committee called Gore “‘the single individual who has done the most to create greater worldwide understanding’ of what needs to be done to combat global warming.” Gore was also on hand to receive the Robert Coles Call of Service Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association.
In 2016, Gore spoke to a full house in Sanders Theatre about the effects of climate change, discussing both continuing dangers and progress toward finding solutions.
The Harvard College Senior Class Committee has invited a guest speaker for Class Day since 1968. Prior to that, the honor was given to University affiliates, such as deans, faculty, or classmates. The first invited guest was Martin Luther King Jr., who accepted the invitation shortly before his assassination. His widow, Coretta Scott King, delivered the speech in his absence and also became the first woman to give a Class Day address at Harvard. Since that time, speakers have spanned fields from politics and social activism to journalism, film, comedy, and literature. Last year’s speaker was the acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
In addition to Gore’s address, Class Day includes award presentations and student orations. All of the events will take place in Tercentenary Theatre in Harvard Yard beginning at 2 p.m. and will be streamed live online.
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