A two-term U.S. Poet Laureate who has used poetry to bridge differences and build community, Tracy K. Smith ’94 will be the featured speaker for Harvard Alumni Day, the Harvard Alumni Association’s University-wide and global event honoring and celebrating alumni impact, citizenship, and community. The event, formerly known as the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, will be held on Harvard’s campus on June 3 and will be simultaneously live-streamed for those who cannot attend in person.
Serving as the 22nd poet laureate of the U.S. in 2017 and 2018, her three-decade career as a poet and her work championing poetry’s critical social value have made Smith a powerful cultural voice on the national stage. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said at the time of her initial appointment that Smith’s work “travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion, and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths — all to better understand what makes us most human.”
Last year, Smith returned to Harvard, from a position at Princeton, taking on a new role: professor of English and of African and African American Studies and the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
“Tracy is an inspired choice to serve as the first official speaker for Harvard Alumni Day. Her poetry has the power to create common ground and to mend what is broken — a gift to all of us, especially in dark times,” said President Larry Bacow. “We are fortunate that she will share with our alumni her abundant insight, passion, and wisdom, and I look forward to hearing her speak.”
“At a time when so many of us are looking for ways to connect, and more importantly ways to understand and remedy the deep divides we see everywhere, I know our alumni will listen with great interest and care to the words of one of America’s most treasured poets,” said Vanessa W. Liu ’96, J.D. ’03, HAA president. “An educator and lyricist of the human condition, Tracy K. Smith is a powerful example of how Harvard alumni are transforming their expertise — their experience, empathy, and artful reflection on our world — to imagine a better world.”
“I’m excited and deeply honored to be addressing the alumni body,” said Smith. “It’s important to come together after this time of relative isolation and speak about this place that we share.” Smith said she feels a “kinship” with her fellow graduates, connected by the common bond of that shared experience. “All of us who’ve passed through Harvard have been changed by this place. It’s about more than just a degree; it’s this sense of what parts of ourselves this place helped give to us.” It was at Harvard, she said, where she began to find herself. “I was enlarged or emboldened by my time here and being back here feels like I’m constantly in contact with that young, wishful self who began to see language as a tool for living more fully and honestly.”