As the academic year gets underway, members of the Ed School community -- including some faculty members who began their time here as students -- look back on how their time on Appian Way began. Up first: Professor Fernando Reimers, Ed.M.'84, Ed.D.'88.
In 1983 I began studies at HGSE as a master’s student. That year, and the following four during which I completed a doctorate at HGSE, shaped my views, my priorities, and my life in ways I did not anticipate.
I remember walking into Longfellow Hall and bumping into a professor who greeted me, “You seem a little lost, how can I help you?” That encounter with Professor Noel McGinn began a wonderful relationship with a most generous and wise human being who taught me much about living a life in service of others, and about the importance of working hard so that education policies advance the opportunities of the most marginalized.
McGinn and his wife, Mary Lou, hosted a dinner at their home for incoming international students. At that dinner, I met others, many of whom became my friends and with whom I am still in touch today. At that party, I met Eleonora – a beautiful women with a beautiful smile, and also a student from Venezuela, When she asked me what I was planning to do after my studies, I told her in all seriousness that I intended to become the secretary of education of Venezuela. She laughed and said I had no idea what I was talking about. Her laughter intrigued me because we continued our conversation until three in the morning under a full moon in the courtyard of the Cronkhite Graduate Center.
I learned much from the courses I took at Harvard, but also from my professors, including Russell Davis, a professor of educational planning, who later became my doctoral adviser; Donald Warwick, a professor very committed to peace and social justice; and Pat Graham, the first woman to be appointed dean at Harvard.
I have wonderful memories of those years at Harvard with the people who exemplified what the spirit of this institution was about, what it meant to do work that sustained those good traditions and that spirit, who combined wonderful academic skills with a genuine interest in teaching and in advancing the field of education so that schools could serve all children. From these remarkable people — their respect and generosity — I learned that the magic of this place is the result of the many voices that contribute to a conversation about what it means to educate in our time and how best to support the opportunities to be educated for each student. I learned to trust that my own voice too could contribute to that conversation, and that my actions and how I lived my life could make a difference in the educational opportunities of others.
My former teachers live forever in my heart, even though some of them are no longer in this world. As for the beautiful woman whose laughter captivated me as we talked until the wee hours? She was right. I did not know what I was talking about because I never became the secretary of education of Venezuela. I slowly learned that life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. But I have been very lucky to have been making those plans with that same woman who continues to laugh, and last month we celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary. Living my life with Eleonora has truly been the most wonderful result of my studies in this school. Our life has been blessed by the many ways in which this institution, and the people who today and before us make it what it is, have helped us find and share with others the fire within.
Read other HGSE Beginnings: