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Commemorating the Impact of Dean James Ryan

Memories, laughter, and renewed connections at the unveiling of Ryan’s official HGSE portrait.
Former HSGE Dean James Ryan smiles at his portrait unveiling ceremony

Former HGSE dean Jim Ryan shares a laugh with friends and colleagues as his portrait was unveiled in Eliot Lyman Room.

Photo: Jill Anderson

At a warm and good-humored gathering earlier this month — perfectly suited to the temperament of the guest of honor — friends, family, and colleagues from across Harvard came together to celebrate the unveiling of the official portrait of former HGSE dean James Ryan

Among the audience who joined Ryan and his wife, Katie, in Longfellow Hall’s Eliot Lyman Room was former Harvard president Drew Faust, who appointed Ryan to the deanship in 2013; former HGSE dean Patricia Albjerg Graham; current dean Bridget Long; and a large contingent of Ed School colleagues and faculty members. They applauded as Ryan’s portrait took its place alongside those of HGSE’s previous leaders.

Former HSGE Dean James Ryan, next to his portrait

Jim Ryan, now president of the University of Virginia, returned to Cambridge to help unveil his official HGSE portrait.


In remarks that opened the event, Long paid homage to the many achievements of her predecessor, who is now the president of the University of Virginia. Long cited Ryan’s successful leadership of HGSE’s capital campaign, which ultimately raised more than $346 million for the school. She noted his effectiveness at increasing the size, strength, and diversity of the HGSE faculty, including the hiring of 17 new faculty members and the addition of 12 members to the senior faculty rank.

She detailed Ryan’s efforts to expand HGSE’s professional development offerings, including the creation of two new online certificate programs — the Certificate in Advanced Education Leadership (CAEL) and the online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. And she outlined his other work to strengthen connections to the practice of education, including by relaunching Usable Knowledge, launching Scaling for Impact, launching the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, and establishing the Teaching and Learning Lab.

“I worked with Jim for much of his tenure as dean, and we have some great memories from that time,” said Long, who served as academic dean during Ryan’s tenure. “What I didn’t realize until I became dean is that Jim made the job look easy. Not only did he train for and run the Boston Marathon every year, he gave a Commencement speech that went viral, taught a course on education and the law, and wrote a bestselling book. No problem, right?”

Former dean Jim Ryan, former Harvard president Drew Faust, and current HGSE dean Bridget Long

Jim Ryan, former Harvard president Drew Faust, and Ryan's successor as dean, Bridget Long


Ryan’s portrait was painted by the artist David Atkin, who is an educator himself, as well as Ryan’s brother-in-law. Given the close and overlapping connections between the artist and his subject, the portrait is filled with personal references, including to Ryan’s mother. Ryan is a “a real family person,” said Atkin at the ceremony. “I wanted to give a sense of his family and also his extended family, because Jim sort of treats the world as family. Wherever he is, he takes this wonderfully engaged position.”

In acknowledging the appreciation of the audience, Ryan said, “I think what they say is true, that sometimes you have to leave a place in order to fully appreciate it. I appreciated HGSE when I was here, but I’ll tell you that I appreciate it even more today. … Everyone here is involved one way or another in working to expand opportunities and improve outcomes for students — everyone. And that generates not just a sense of purpose but a sense of community, unlike any other that I’ve seen before, and unlike any other that I expect I’ll see. And again, it’s only by leaving that I can see how unique this place is.”