The spring rain couldn’t dampen the thousands of smiles on Radcliffe Yard today as Dean James Ryan remarked on a core characteristic of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s graduating class: heart.
This was a year “full of genuine surprises,” he said. “In the face of the deep divisions the election highlighted, you responded with concern but also with care, compassion, empathy, and, most importantly, with love.”
He continued, “I think each class at HGSE has a defining quality, and I have come to think of your class as exceptionally big-hearted, in large part because of what I saw of your collective character after the election” — actions which included organizing a solidarity rally, participating in a dean’s challenge looking to reduce bullying and discrimination in schools, and creating an art installation titled “Love in the Time of...”.
That class of 732 graduates — 31 from the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Program, 23 from the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program, 12 from the Certificate of Advanced Study (C.A.S.) in Counseling Program, and 666 from the Master of Education (Ed.M.) Program — have already begun their work as educators, policymakers, advocates, and entrepreneurs, who are committed to making the world a more compassionate, just place.
Ryan began his remarks with a note of gratitude for all in attendance, especially the families and friends who have been indispensable to these graduates’ journeys to Harvard. He also referenced the community-building and consciousness-raising events that have marked this year at HGSE, from the Let’s Talk conference on Asian American mental health to the Double Take storytelling program to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
In the bulk of his speech, Ryan explored the theme of grace. “If you aren’t already, you are all going to be leaders someday, and someday soon,” he said. “You will lead classrooms, schools, school systems, organizations, and offices. You will lead in homerooms and in boardrooms. You will be leaders in politics and leaders in your families. You will lead in your communities and in your countries. And my simple plea is this: Lead with grace.”
Juxtaposing examples from church services, First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy, basketball star Dr. J, credit cards, the daughters of Zeus, and The Simpsons, Ryan grappled with the definition of grace, noting the word’s uniqueness, complexity, and elusiveness. Acting with grace, he said, can be therefore difficult, especially in “a world where brashness and bravado seem far more common and rewarded than the gentler and subtler acts — and art — of grace.”
“But to me,” Ryan advised, “it’s not a bad idea, when unsure what to do or how to respond to life’s various challenges, to lead with, to go with, grace — to ask yourself, in other words, what it would mean to act or respond graciously or gracefully.”
Leading with grace, he said, means “to lead with gratitude and with courage. It means to lead with forgiveness and to lead in the service of others. It means to lead with authenticity and with a combination of confidence and humility.”
Remember to be grateful for the opportunity to lead, he said, and strive to always choose the right path, rather than the easiest or most popular one. Be prepared to forgive others for their mistakes, and work to create conditions for those people to shine. Lead with a sense of style that lets you to be comfortable with who you are. Work for perfection, and have confidence in your abilities — but always remember that you will never be truly perfect.
“I am confident that if you remember grace, it will help you find the right path,” Ryan concluded. “Embrace your grace, cultivate it, and share it with the world, which desperately needs it. In short, and in sum, not to mention in rhyme, as you depart Appian Way to make the world a better place, may you always, always, lead with grace.”