No, it wasn’t a political rally. It was a reunion: the 50th reunion of the Harvard Class of 1969. One speaker, Bob Hughes, exemplified a running theme of the entire reunion by pointing out what we can do: “Vote early and often; support whoever the Democratic nominee is.” The word “whoever” is crucial. Although Hughes clearly and explicitly prefers Mayor Pete, he pointed out more generally what we can do instead of just reminiscing. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
In yesterday’s post I tried to discuss the exhausting first 24 hours of this reunion, a 96-hour affair in toto. I didn’t even succeed in covering the entire first session in that post, as I had to stop writing when there was still three hours of material left to discuss — and that’s just in the first 24 hours! By the end of the old thing, politics seemed to dominate, although my impression is skewed somewhat because in each session after the first two we chose among various simultaneous symposia, and my choices tended to lean political. Anyway, let’s at least try to finish that first day. After that long “Coming of Age during a Divisive War” panel discussion came two and a half hours’ worth of keynote addresses — without a break. (More on that issue later on.) The first and principal keynote was by our classmate Al Gore: “The Climate Crisis and its Solutions” (no surprise there). This was an impassioned and stirring multimedia address with a delivery reminiscent of the style of Martin Luther King Jr. (somewhat of a surprise for the cerebral Gore). It had exceptionally impressive production values, complete with animation where animation was appropriate. Clearly some of it had just been revised, since it included up-to-date info about the flooding in Oklahoma and Missouri. Topics ranged from long-term climate change to Brexit to the growth of renewal energy (much faster than had been projected). He tried to stay relatively non-partisan and often non-political, but of course he couldn’t, starting with Trump’s racist response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
I liked the use of data in Gore’s talk, mostly in graphic form. I like the irony of the Noah’s Ark replica that sued their insurance company because of flooding, and the coal museum in Kentucky that decided to cover its roof with solar panels. And I liked the closing quotation from poet Wallace Stevens, which captures the kind of optimism I believe in:
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
Let’s hope for a final yes.
After Gore’s speech came a keynote by classmate Bobby Scott, a congressman from Virginia — who is both the first black and first Filipino congressman from that state, and chair of the education and labor committee. He spoke eloquently about criminal justice reform, Bob Mueller, tax cuts, school segregation, and so forth. It was a compelling talk but it couldn’t compete with Gore.
The third keynote — are you tired yet? I was — and remember that all this was immediately after a 90-minute panel discussion — the third keynote was by classmate Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT, who spoke about the adverse effects of technology. Like Scott, she spoke well but again suffered by comparison with Gore. The main comment that struck a chord was her description of how she kept hearing throughout her schooling that there was such a thing as a “permanent record” that would follow you throughout your life. (Did they tell you that when you were in school?) One consequence was that she was paralyzed when trying to pick courses in high school and even freshman year in college: what if she made the wrong choice? Everything else in her talk was familiar to me, but that was a new one to me and quite striking.
I was so exhausted by this point that I couldn’t even stay for the fourth keynote, by Harvard President Larry Bacow. And I’m so exhausted now that I can’t discuss the next 24 hours, so you’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s post to read about that. Whew!