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HGSE Welcomes 679 New Students

While the first day of school is typically about nervous jitters, the 679 new students gathering at HGSE Orientation yesterday were already spurred to ask questions in the coming year.

“Don’t settle for knowing that there is an achievement gap. Ask why. Don’t settle for knowing that many, too many, schools remain separated by race and income. Ask why,” Dean James Ryan said. “Ask why some teachers are significantly more successful than others. Why do some children begin school behind their peers? Why do students in some countries outperform students in other countries? In short, don’t settle for facts alone — seek understanding. Understanding begins with asking why.”

"Don’t settle for facts alone — seek understanding. Understanding begins with asking why.” - Dean James Ryan

The incoming class consists of 619 Ed.M. students, 48 doctoral students (including Ed.D., Ed.L.D., and the first cohort of the Ph.D. program), and 12 C.A.S. students. 

The weeklong orientation provides opportunities for new students to become acquainted with the Ed School campus, courses, and faculty members, as well as fellow students, who have a diverse range of experience and backgrounds. The incoming cohort includes students from Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, students with backgrounds from military service to fashion design, and even some law school alums. Many come to the Ed School with public service experience such as serving as a tribal leader in Minnesota to working to empower women in India, and teaching lacrosse to middle schoolers in Bangkok.

It is those differences and experience that will make their time at HGSE even richer, Ryan reminded, as well as how they move forward in their careers. But to get there first, Ryan also encouraged the students to not only ask why, but also “why not.”

“You are going to encounter difficult issues and problems, but I would submit there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be thinking, even now, how you — how we — might solve them,” Ryan said.  

Faculty speaker and Associate Professor Jal Mehta, recipient of the 2014 Morningstar Family Teaching Award, reiterated similar sentiments, highlighting the importance of asking “why not” as a means to move from a 20th century education system to a 21st century one.

“The world needs to change and you guys need to be the ones to do it,” Mehta said.

While there are certain qualities to being academic, Mehta told the students that if they want to change the system then they need to cultivate certain dispositions in themselves like courage, humility, radicalness, and community.

Student speaker and doctoral candidate Eddie Contreras, Ed.M’09, told the cohort not to fear all the stereotypes that exist about Harvard because it won’t be what you think it is. He assured that the staff, faculty, and fellow students were all eager to help, but that ultimately it is was up to each of them to push themselves beyond what’s expected.

“I know that each and every one of you has come here because you want to change the world through education, and my colleagues and I want to help you do that,” Ryan said. “We are here, quite literally, because you are here. And I hope and trust that this school will give you the tools and the inspiration necessary to achieve your goals, because the world needs you.”



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