“If I had said ‘no’ to any one of these three questions, I wouldn’t be standing here today. And this is not to say that I am prescient, or wise, or courageous, or brave, none of those things — just that I was open to seeing where roads I hadn’t considered might actually take me. That way of moving through the world has taken me to some pretty interesting places — and actually being here, standing behind this podium talking to you today, is just one of them.
“You, too, are going to have plenty of chances to consider other paths for yourselves, paths that will appear to you unexpectedly — even inconveniently, just as those appeared to me. Be willing to take those chances,” said Bacow.
To emphasize his point, Harvard’s 29th president pointed out some other Harvard notables who took the road less traveled. Jorie Graham, Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric, was planning to become a filmmaker as an undergrad at NYU, he said, until a chance encounter with some lines from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot set her on a different path. Graham won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1996.
This year’s Harvard Arts medalist, Rubén Blades, L.L.M. ’85, was envisioning a career in the law until a dean of his law school in Panama told him that in order to reflect the dignity of the profession, he would have to give up singing. Blades went on to win 17 Grammy and Latin Grammy awards, in addition to his success as an actor and politician.
Bacow also mentioned Ray Hammond, who graduated from Harvard College at 19 and Harvard Medical School at 23 and became a surgeon, but ultimately chose to heal people in a different way. Today known as the Rev. Ray Hammond, he is the founder and pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston and “one of Boston’s most influential spiritual leaders.”