It was a propitious start of the new year at Harvard as a new class of PhD and AM students gathered in Sanders Theatre on Wednesday, August 24—a perfect late-summer day—for the 2011 Orientation ceremony of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
In a program hosted by Margot Gill, the GSAS administrative dean, new students heard first from Harvard President Drew Faust, who spoke of the importance of the scholarly journey they were undertaking. "In the world today, your commitment to unbounded intellectual exploration is more essential than ever," Faust said. Citing the dissertation topics she reviewed before last spring's Commencement ceremony, she encouraged her audience to being articulating their own passions, and to take inspiration from the remarkable people, and the high expectations, that will greet them at Harvard. "I wonder what you are going to explore?" she asked. "What will be your unique and serious contributions to the world of knowledge?"
The incoming GSAS class includes 637 PhD candidates and 82 AM candidates. They were admitted from a record applicant pool of nearly 12,000.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith evoked a not-too-distant Commencement Day, when he would gather with members of this group again, in this same Sanders venue, to confer their degrees. He urged students to "view your time here as a gift and a luxury, even though it won't feel like that every day."
GSAS Dean Allan Brandt echoed Faust in saying that the challenges facing the world today make the quest for new knowledge and discoveries more important, more necessary, than at any point in history. He reassured his audience that they were equal to the task ahead. "You are the individuals that our faculty so carefully selected, drawn from largest applicant pool in GSAS history," he said.
The ceremony also included remarks from Professor James Hogle, the master of Dudley House; Anshul Kumar, a PhD candidate in sociology and the coordinating Dudley Fellow; Cammi Valdez, a PhD candidate in chemical biology and the president of the Graduate Student Council; and Dean of Students Garth McCavana. Hogle drew laughs as he urged his students to believe in themselves, to believe — as their faculty do — that they actually belong at Harvard, and to relax. Continue to find enjoyment in the passions and interests that engage you, he said — not only your intellectual interests, but your extracurricular ones as well. He offered Dudley House, with its multitude of student-driven social and recreational opportunities, as a cure for the occasional isolation or ongoing stresses of graduate study.