Among the quoted: Toni Morrison, Amanda Gorman, Jill Lepore, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Annette Gordon-Reed, Drew Faust, Paul Farmer, and Gish Jen.

Photo illustration by Judy Blomquist/Harvard Staff

Campus & Community

The quote machine

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Powered by Harvard conversations, an ever-expanding collection of arguments, insights, reactions, and reflections

The pages of the Gazette are rich with research, history, analysis, debate — and voices. Over the years, we’ve heard from scholars, researchers, scientists, artists, and authors, of course, but also soldiers, activists, nurses, even a race-car driver. After taking a look back, we wanted to share what we found. This collection is necessarily and intentionally incomplete, and also very much alive. Read on, and then come back in a month to see whose inspired moment has been added to the list.

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I am oddly mistrustful of ease.

Claire Messud.

— Claire Messud, author, Turns of narrative

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I think I learned through art — through Dada, through surrealism — how to trust in myself. And when I learned how to trust in myself, the last place I wanted to be was inside. I wanted to go out, I wanted to be engaged in the world.

— Jeff Koons, artist, High king of middlebrow

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Experience is the Higgs Boson of normativity – it’s the value that gives so many of our values their value. Why, for example, do we value honesty? You could say that honesty is valuable in and of itself. But would we value honesty in this gut-level way if it were not generally beneficial? When people are dishonest, it causes harm. It negatively impacts our lived experience.

Joshua Greene.

— Joshua Greene, psychologist, “Deep pragmatism” as a moral engine

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As the sun rose and it got hotter and hotter, we started passing the horses near the top of the mountain around mile 18. Passing those horses was one of the biggest thrills of my running life. I’ve also never felt so competitive. As I was racing those horses toward the end, I had an indescribably primal urge to beat them.

Daniel Lieberman.

— Daniel Lieberman, evolutionary biologist, How fast can we run?

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Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.

— Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist, Good genes are nice, but joy is better

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I love writing essays and I hate writing books. The ideas for the books I’ve written generally come from things that I come across in the archives and that I think are important and that I wish people knew about. I wish someone else would write a book about them, so that I could read it, so that it could exist, and be read by other people. But since no one has already written that book, I feel like I have to. It’s awful.

Jill Lepore.

— Jill Lepore, historian, The art of the matter

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I remember walking on the street past a person who had been at the firm where I was, someone with whom I had worked, and the person just passed by me and didn’t even know who I was. I recognized him, he didn’t recognize me. And I remember thinking, I gave time to this enterprise that I could have given to my mother. It might have felt more justifiable in some way if I were actually doing something that I loved doing. I think she would have understood that. So that’s my regret. And she would say that that’s ridiculous. I didn’t have as much time with her as I expected I would have.

Annette Gordon Reed.

— Annette Gordon-Reed, historian, Experience

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Good poetry all has a similar quality, which is it moves us; it sings to us; it says something perhaps surprising, or unexpected. Or maybe it says something we hadn’t realized we thought or knew or felt. It gives voice. But it also seeks silence.

Kevin Young.

— Kevin Young, poet, Kevin Young and a unified theory of Black culture — and himself

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You walk in and there’s a performance, that one-time performance for that patient. You want the scar to be beautiful, because the kids are going to have that for, God willing, 70 or 80 years.

— Terry Buchmiller, surgeon and musician, Leaving a beautiful scar

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If determinism — the predictability of the universe — breaks down in black holes, it could break down in other situations. Even worse, if determinism breaks down, we can’t be sure of our past history either. The history books and our memories could just be illusions. It is the past that tells us who we are. Without it, we lose our identity.

Stephen Hawking.

— Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), physicist, Hawking at Harvard

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Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

J.K. Rowling.

— J.K. Rowling, novelist, The fringe benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination

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Ignorance acknowledged is an opportunity; ignorance denied is a closed door. And it takes courage to admit to the truth of what you do not know.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, novelist, Adichie: Protect and value the truth

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Well-behaved women seldom make history.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

— Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, historian, Experience

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Life teaches that presence matters. People respond to commitment and deliberateness. When you put away your phone to have a conversation, that’s the decision that counts: People care about your offer of attention. Empathy is built on such little gestures, the ones that communicate that you don’t know what someone else has to say but that you want to learn.

— Sherry Turkle, psychologist, At PBK ceremony, a call to empathy

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I’m not a writer who is hidden away from the world. My work is political. Part of the role of the writer, I believe, is to take dangerous positions on behalf of those whose voices are not so easily heard.

Teju Cole.

— Teju Cole, novelist and critic, Author will urge creative-writing students beyond genre limits

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Expressions of goodness are never trivial in my work, they are never incidental in my writing. In fact, I want them to have life-changing properties and to illuminate decisively the moral questions embedded in the narrative.

Toni Morrison.

— Toni Morrison (1931-2019), novelist, Good, but never simple

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We don’t have a system that makes it possible to vanquish our foes and live for 1,000 years in power — for which I am grateful. And yet, that’s what you’d think if you listen to politicians, that we can treat each other with contempt and hatred, and win and silence our foes, and kick them off our platforms and campuses. That’s a way to be miserable, and ultimately, to lose.

Arthur Brooks.

— Arthur Brooks, social scientist, Happiness scholar cites three ways to start healing rifts

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This romanticization of a ‘good death’ — you can’t have a good death if you’re a 23-year-old girl with a huge ovarian mass, like the one my colleagues just removed in Mirebalais, in central Haiti. You can’t have a good death if you’re the 17-year-old girl I saw in Mumbai last Monday with drug-resistant tuberculosis, her parents weeping as her options were running out. Holding someone’s hand as they die? Bullshit. Fight. They want you to.

— Paul Farmer (1959-2022), physician and co-founder of Partners In Health, Experience

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An awareness of the infirmity of unaided human intuition should be part of the conventional wisdom of every educated person.

Steven Pinker.

— Steven Pinker, psychologist, Anecdotes aren’t data

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My ambitions on the racial front have shrunk. I feel chastened. That’s why I’m talking about ‘racial decency’ as opposed to ‘racial equality.’ My sense of what is possible in the foreseeable future has been diminished.

— Randall Kennedy, legal scholar, If Randall Kennedy ran the world

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I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.​

Lauren Groff.

— Lauren Groff, novelist, in response to question, “Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?”, Alienation proves fertile state of mind for Lauren Groff

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Drugs either contribute to the smooth workings of society and the economy, or they muck it up. Caffeine fosters a kind of consciousness that’s very sober and focused, and it gives people energy. It’s a great boon to capitalism that way.

Michael Pollan.

— Michael Pollan, author and journalist, Michael Pollan digs deeper into drugs

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She didn’t look like a glamorous woman, and she didn’t behave like a restrained woman. There’s this incredible personality at work there that somehow, against all odds, succeeds with the public.

— Marylène Altieri, curator, Becoming Julia Child

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I think we know a lot more scientifically about love and the brain than we did a couple of decades ago … But do we think that makes us better at love, or helping people with love? Probably not much.

Richard Schwartz.

— Richard Schwartz, psychiatrist, When love and science double date

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You often have the sense, with the very first note of a Beethoven piece, that it bursts into existence as a result of some uncontainable pressure that must have been building for a long time before the piece was born, a pressure that finally became unbearable.

Matthew Aucoin.

— Matthew Aucoin, composer, Beethoven at 250

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The voice I was reading on the page and writing on the page was the voice I really wanted for myself.

Amanda Gorman.

— Amanda Gorman, inaugural U.S. youth poet laureate, The poetic perspective

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You should inform your gut and then trust it.

Daniel Kahneman.

— Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, Negotiating the irrational

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The older I have gotten, the less sleep I need. The older I get, the more I work because my sense is that time is shorter, and I want to make the most of it.

Orlando Patterson.

— Orlando Patterson, sociologist, Is 80 the new 60?

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A beautiful narrative arc reassures us that the baffling events around us are meaningful — and this is why ‘Ulysses’ appeared to be an instrument of chaos, an anarchist bomb.

Kevin Birmingham.

— Kevin Birmingham, author, Rocky path to publication for most dangerous book

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I wanted to warn future social movements that listening only to one’s own side can generate dangerous amounts of unrealism. I worry that parts of the left may be falling into this trap today.

— Jane Mansbridge, political scientist, Experience

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Insurgents detonated 30 to 35 pounds of homemade explosives below my feet. It took off both legs immediately. I sat up after hitting the ground thinking maybe I had a broken leg or something. But both legs were gone.

Greg Galeazzi.

— Greg Galeazzi, veteran, Between Army and Medical School, a stop in hell

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You miss certain features of reality when you’re trying to write down simple models of the world.

Raj Chetty.

— Raj Chetty, economist, The personal side of economics

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My philosophy is very simple. When you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, stand up, say something, and speak out.

John Lewis.

— U.S. Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020), Facing the future, Lewis and Faust see reason for hope

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If you have the resources, invest in data quality far more than you invest in data quantity. Bad-quality data is essentially wiping out the power you think you have.

Xiao-Li Meng.

— Xiao-Li Meng, statistician, 2 early vaccination surveys worse than worthless thanks to “big data paradox

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In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners must believe they have earned their success through their talent and hard work.

Michael Sandel.

— Michael J. Sandel, philosopher, Toppling the myth of meritocracy

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You either have to build up the courage to do something to stop the deaths of innocent children, or you eventually will lose your power in this country.

Jaclyn Corin.

— Jaclyn Corin, March for Our Lives co-founder, Mass shootings reignite youth gun control push

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Maybe we need to stop thinking, in some cases, about a cure for cancer. … Maybe they don’t need to be curable for us to have long, healthy lives.

Timothy Rebbeck.

— Timothy Rebbeck, Professor of Cancer Prevention, Bringing the cancer fight back down to earth

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I believe in the power of choice to shape fate, even though I recognize the hugely important role that social structures play in limiting one’s choices. It is the heart of the debate between Ralph Ellison, who stressed the role of choice, of agency for Black people, and Richard Wright, who stressed the determining and deleterious effects of socio-economic structure.

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

— Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., historian, African-American folklore inspires meeting of the minds

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We have created a grand con. And potentially a dangerous one, because we are convincing the rest of the society that technology can do things that it actually cannot do.

Krzysztof Gajos.

— Krzysztof Gajos, computer scientist, When will a robot write a novel?

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I think we’ve really met a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment.

Lawrence Katz.

— Lawrence Katz, labor economist, “I quit” is all the rage. Blip or sea change?

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We know what a healthy meal looks like. We know that exercise is good for you and that pollution is bad for you. But we know a lot less about the places where we spend all of our time.

Joe Allen.

— Joe Allen, public health expert, Is your home making you sick?

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The problem really is not that democracy is being prevented so much as that democracy is occurring. … It’s precisely the citizens in the major carbon-emitting democracies who benefit from cheap gasoline and global trade.

— Jonathan Franzen, novelist, Some choice words for liberals

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Slightly more women than men get Ph.Ds. in the classics in the U.S., and yet the vast majority of translations that readers read in English for classics are by men. This is an issue, and we should talk about it.

Emily Wilson.

— Emily Wilson, classicist, New chapter for “The Odyssey

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How do I tell a neonatal intensive care unit nurse her assignment today is to hold the iPad for the family of a dying adult intensive-care unit patient so they can say goodbye?

Mary Tenney.

— Mary Tenney, nurse, 14 nurses on life and work during COVID

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Leadership, in my mind, is about managing change. If you’re not managing change, you’re not leading: You’re presiding. And I did not take this job merely to preside over Harvard.

Larry Bacow.

— Larry Bacow, Harvard president, Larry Bacow’s listening tour

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Most of writing is like plumbing, and laying the floor, and digging the basement, and then layering it brick by brick by brick until you have the edifice.

Min Jin Lee.

— Min Jin Lee, novelist, Researching and writing history

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When you see death all the time, you go into this mode of increased energy and sharper focus.

Max Essex.

— Max Essex, pioneering AIDS researcher, Experience

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I’ve just seen dozens and dozens and dozens of every kind of bug imaginable attacking the dreamer: There are swarms of every kind of flying insect you’ve ever heard of; there are armies of cockroaches racing at the dreamer; there are masses of wriggling worms; there were some grasshoppers with vampire fangs; there are bed bugs, stink bugs.

— Deirdre Barrett, psychologist, What pandemic dreams may come

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Nature is often alluring and attractive, yet natural materials are anything but safe.

— Robert Paarlberg, author, Only eat organic? You’re paying too much, and it’s not worth it

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That the other officers so casually walked around, took notes, just stood there chatting, bespeaks a wall of everyday routine and indifference that has such profound cultural roots at this point that it’s not just unconscious bias.

— Lawrence D. Bobo, sociologist, The fire this time

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In our lifetime [helium] might not run out, but for humanity it has a finite supply. We can’t make any more.

— Anthony Lowe, electronics technician, Global helium shortage slams brakes at Harvard labs

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Maybe what’s happening is that after all these years my real face is finally emerging.

Junot Díaz.

— Junot Díaz, author, Old masks, new face

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People with disabilities get called inspiring so often, usually for the most insignificant things, that the word now feels like a euphemism for pity. Sometimes when a nondisabled person uses the word to describe a person with a disability, it’s a sign that they’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable.

Haben Girma.

— Haben Girma, first deafblind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, One L, only harder

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Things are intriguing to me when they’re slightly edited, like these shoes.

Virgil Abloh.

— Virgil Abloh (1980-2021), designer, Ideas (and sneakers) were in the air

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It’s never art for art’s sake, because even if I do it for myself in my head, I have an ideal.

Yo-Yo Ma.

— Yo-Yo Ma, cellist, “I want to make it felt

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That is an extraordinarily important thing, morally and economically. People who are healthier are more productive. People who are healthier are smarter.

Lawrence Summers.

— Lawrence Summers, economist and former Harvard president, Health as an economic engine

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I’m convinced that all someone has to do to be considered a writer is write.

Ruben Reyes.

— Ruben Reyes Jr., launched student Latinx literary magazine, A writer’s journey

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I don’t know how to take solace in religion.

Art Spiegelman.

— Art Spiegelman, cartoonist,  Fathers, killers, God, and “Maus

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Are there other people who — if they had a couple of years to be inventive — could have done a ‘Revolver’ or ‘Rubber Soul’? Every bone in my body cries out, ‘No!’ But my brain whispers, ‘Maybe.’

Cass R. Sunstein.

— Cass R. Sunstein, studies behavioral economics, Why do some bands rocket when others sputter out?

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We must acknowledge the harm that Harvard has done. But it is also important that we do not — as has been done in the past — bury stories of Black resistance, excellence, and leadership.

Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

— Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Radcliffe dean, Slavery probe: Harvard’s ties inseparable from rise

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When my son was diagnosed, I knew nothing about diabetes … I changed my research focus, thinking, as any parent would, ‘What am I going to do about this?’

Douglas Melton.

— Douglas Melton, stem cell researcher, Breakthrough within reach for diabetes scientist and patients nearest to his heart

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They gave me a choice between swimming in the women’s and the men’s team. The University was supportive of my decision, but if I have to break it down, the coaches were absolutely key. They were behaving like parents who love their kids first, and that was incredibly important.

Schuyler Bailer.

—Schuyler Bailar, first openly transgender swimmer in NCAA Division I, Schuyler Bailar races toward his authentic self

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Native students are using education not as a tool of assimilation to strip us of our identities, but instead to uplift and advocate for our own tribal communities.

Samantha Maltais.

— Samantha Maltais, first Wampanoag to attend Harvard Law, Student of history makes history

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I was on the top of the world — a Navy SEAL going to Harvard — and I couldn’t write my own name.

Sergio Lopez.

— Sergio Lopez, veteran, A Navy SEAL who cheated death finds his voice

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Facts and truth are matters of life and death. Misinformation, disinformation, delusions, and deceit can kill.

Marty Baron.

— Marty Baron, Washington Post editor, The danger of “misinformation, disinformation, delusions, and deceit

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It is harder for me to imagine a female actor striking a female comedian who made a comment or a bad joke. Then I start thinking: Is gender a piece of this?

— Anna Precht, director of McLean Hospital’s 3East Boys Intensive Program, Wait — what if Will Smith was just being a man?

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Humans are the most social animal on the planet and conversation is the bread and butter of social life. We may not live by bread alone, but we die without it.

— Daniel Gilbert, social psychologist, Know why conversations either seem too short or too long?

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I always joke that I live in Boston and it’s a city of 3 million people but I actually socialize more and meet more people when I’m at the South Pole.

— Marion Dierickx, researcher, Life on the ice

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Search until you find a passion and go all out to excel in its expression.

E.O. Wilson.

— E.O. Wilson (1929-2021), biologist, Experience

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What the hell — why don’t I just go to Harvard and turn my life upside down?

Drew Faust.

— Drew Faust, former Harvard president, Experience

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People often ask me if I could go back in time, what would I most want to see and do in the world of the American Revolution? And my answer is: I’m a woman. I wouldn’t want to go back in time for five minutes.

Jane Kamensky.

— Jane Kamensky, historian, When abortion wasn’t a legal issue

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Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted. Neither is peace, and neither is prosperity. But if we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace new beginnings, everything is possible.

Angela Merkel.

— Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, Merkel advises graduates: Break the walls that hem you in

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There are so many bad things that can happen well short of civil war that I wish we, as a country, were talking more about.

— Jay Ulfelder, political scientist, We don’t need a civil war to be in serious trouble

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In late 1969, had you asked the question, ‘What do you think about the environment?’ I think the most common response would have been, ‘What is the environment?’

Denis Hayes.

— Denis Hayes, Earth Day co-founder, How Earth Day gave birth to environmental movement

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Think about it: Grey parrot outperforms Harvard undergrads. That’s pretty freaking awesome. We had students concentrating in engineering, pre-meds, this, that, seniors, and he just kicked their butts.

— Hrag Pailian, researcher, When a bird brain tops Harvard students on a test

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Psychologists have a certain way of studying intelligence. They have a certain notion of what intelligence means and how to test for it. I was kind of a bull in a china shop when I came out with my theory. Psychologists never liked my ideas. Educators found that it spoke to them.

Howard Gardner.

— Howard Gardner, psychologist, Experience

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Psychologists say that humans can handle four independent variables and when we get to five, we’re lost. So AI is coming at the perfect time. It has the potential to rescue us from data overload.

Robert Truog.

— Robert Truog, bioethicist, AI revolution in medicine

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Both in politics and in everyday life, one of the worst things we could do is get used to death, treat it as unremarkable or as anything other than a loss.

— Susanna Siegel, philosopher, How death shapes life

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That would be Natasha Rostov in ‘War and Peace,’ who goes from a most vital, enchanting, and unpredictable girl to the most boring and conventional of women, completely ruined by motherhood (and, of course, Tolstoy).

Gish Jen.

— Gish Jen, novelist, Who is your favorite literary hero, villain?

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My own reactions to hearing music or seeing dance or theater that I really love is the almost irresistible urge that I have to leave as soon as possible.

Laurie Anderson.

— Laurie Anderson, artist, O Superwoman

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The mere fact that you started with something … does not mean you were entitled to it.

I. Glenn Cohen.

— I. Glenn Cohen, law professor, One thing to change: Question that status quo

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The real core of someone telling another to put on a mask is fear.

— David H. Rosmarin, psychologist, Soothing advice for mad America

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It was really like direct action. It was like the radical feminists invading the Miss America contest, or the Black Panthers standing in front of Oakland City Hall with rifles.

— Michael Bronski, author of “A Queer History of the United States,” Stonewall then and now

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In this situation, we don’t simply want to frantically struggle to restore the status quo because the status quo wasn’t operating at an effective level and certainly wasn’t serving all of our children fairly.

Paul Reville.

— Paul Reville, former Massachusetts secretary of education, Time to fix American education with race-for-space resolve

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There is this idea of America as the shining city on the hill, as this example of democracy achieved, as the redeemer nation. … Baldwin is insisting, and I agree with him, that if we’re going to grow up as a nation, we have to confront that fantasy. We have to confront that lie.

— Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, Black progress, white anger

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There’s an irony in the fact that a country that has always been predicated on reinvention and looking to the future now seems to draw its greatest strength from an event that happened 80 years in the past.

Elizabeth Samet.

— Elizabeth D. Samet, West Point scholar, How “Good War” wasn’t all that good

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For centuries, we’ve demonized the curiosity of women like Eve and Pandora, blaming them for bringing sin and evil into the world. Yet curiosity has served women well in our cultural imagination.

Maria Tatar.

— Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Genuine heroines

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I kept wondering what Venus as an enslaved person would be. Would she have ever imagined a future in which someone like me attending Harvard was possible?

Suzannah Omonuk.

— Suzannah Omonuk, poet, A poem for Venus

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I see archives, now, as the richest source of real life. You never know what detail, what strange twist, will come together and open up a new picture for you.

— Irina Klyagin, archivist, Prized manuscript — and valuable lesson — unearthed in Soviet archive

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Everyone has called me intense with that bad connotation, like, ‘You won’t smile.’ I’m proud that I’m intense. I’m not going to apologize for that.

Aurora Straus.

— Aurora Straus, professional race car driver, Life in the fast lane

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I went from thinking, ‘She’s my oddball great-aunt’ to thinking, ‘She’s really a genius.’

Philip Deloria.

— Philip Deloria, historian, A colorful figure

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Clarity is, of course, important. But for me, the really important thing in translating, even prose, is that all writing has a kind of music to it.

— Arthur Goldhammer, translator, In translation, he found his raison d’être

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You cannot outrun a bad diet, nor can you outeat an inactive lifestyle.

I-Minn Lee.

— I-Min Lee, epidemiologist, Gorge today, sweat tomorrow? That’s not how it works.

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Being at sea is a really pure form of living. All you care about are the basics of sleeping, eating, taking care of yourself, taking care of the boat, making sure everything’s working, and being totally aware of the weather.

— Jim Hammitt, professor of economics and decision sciences, Sailing alone, under the stars, and fast