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Other speeches at Salovey’s inauguration

Remarks by Harvard president Drew Faust and National University of Singapore president Tan Chorh Chuan.

Remarks by Drew Faust, President of Harvard University

I join this festive assembly today to bring greetings from the remarkable panoply of institutions that together constitute this nation’s greatest wellspring of possibility and promise—our colleges and universities. I come to you from the humble place of learning that more than three centuries ago educated several of the enterprising young men who helped to found Yale.

These pious ministers, 75 years after Harvard was born, came to the sober judgment that the college in Cambridge had strayed from the path of the good and the true. So they undertook to create a new haven of learning, a new college where young minds could experience an education infused not just with veritas, but with lux. And so it has been for more than three centuries, Yale inspiring those eager to seek truth and helping the wayward, including my own sometimes errant institution, to find the light.

Yale and Harvard have long enjoyed a sort of sibling rivalry: equal parts spirited competition and mutual admiration. Today is no day to talk about the rivalries, no time to mention even in passing that our recent encounters on the football field have ended with the Old Blue feeling just that. Today is an occasion to celebrate what we and all of us who care about higher education share in common. Most of all it is a day to celebrate the ascension of an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and human being to the high calling of university president.

Nearly 250 years ago, Edward Holyoke, my own institution’s ninth president, captured the grandeur of the office when he declared, “If any man wishes to be humbled and mortified, let him become president of Harvard College.” Some two centuries later, Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti, offered his own pithy exaltation of the role. “Being president of a university,” he wrote, “is no way for an adult to make a living.” To be sure, he acknowledged, the job has, and I quote him, “those lucid moments, those crystalline experiences, those… epiphanies… that lay bare the essence of it all.” But alas, he confessed, “they were all moments of profound and brilliant failure.”

For the enticing adventures that await him, it’s hard to imagine someone better prepared than Yale’s new president. With wisdom, elan, and humane devotion, he has long served Yale in an extraordinary array of leadership roles. For Peter Salovey, even the grass is blue.

As you all know by now, after the festivities of the preceding days, his singular qualifications include his years as a fiendishly agile bassist for the renowned Professors of Bluegrass. And to confirm that he has no illusions about the challenges ahead, you need only peek at the song titles of the group’s new album: “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke”; “I’ve Endured”; the plaintive tune beloved to fund-raisers everywhere, “I Ain’t Broke”; and that old favorite, “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday,” which he may now be pressured to divest from his repertoire.

Smoke and diamonds aside, Peter Salovey knows, as well as anyone alive, what Yale’s 16th president meant when he memorably distilled this great university’s essence. Yale, Whitney Griswold said, and I quote him, “is part of all… the scholars and students who have trod paths of learning across her campus, of their ideals and accomplishments, for… centuries drawing strength and inspiration and character from them all yet transcending them all in her importance to society.” Such things, he said, are irreplaceable.

We live in a time when public discourse on higher education focuses all too often on the immediate and the instrumental, on products and dollars, numbers and jobs. Griswold’s words remind us that universities are—they must be—about far more. They are about shaping character, kindling inspiration, sustaining an environment where new ideas and enduring ideals help us transcend the here and now. They are irreplaceable. They need our nourishment, our devotion and our care.

At a pivotal time for higher education, filled with possibility and fraught with challenge, not only Yale but all of us are immensely fortunate to welcome the leadership and the fellowship of its new president. Half a century ago, when Yale set off to seek a new leader, a member of the search committee said, “he must be a man of the present, with knowledge of the past and a clear vision of the future.… poised, clear eyed, informed… profound with a wit that bubbles up and brims over.… He must be young enough to have ‘dynamic ideas,’ but old enough to be sensible about them; courageous, but not foolhardy,” someone who “commands respects, who soothes the ruffled, and charms the sentimental, an Olympian who is one of the boys.… a man with a heart.”

Few mortals could aspire even remotely to fit such a description. Peter Salovey comes unnervingly close. An illustrious scholar, a revered teacher and mentor, a creative administrator, a warm, wise, and witty colleague and friend, a humanist and a scientist, a man of ideas, and a man of the world, thoroughly comfortable in his own skin, mustache or no.

Heir to a rabbinic legacy and apostle of bluegrass all in one. Someone who in one colleague’s words, is just an astonishingly human guy. With familiar pride from your sibling to the north, and with the good wishes of colleagues across the nation, I’m honored to congratulate Yale on its splendid selection. May President Salovey enjoy a tenure inspired by the music of discovery, informed by the wisdom of the ages, and infused with the satisfaction of advancing Yale’s highest ideals. Thank you.