But it is my customary assignmentand privilegeto offer each spring a report to the alumni on theyear that isending. And this was a year that for anumber of reasons demands special note.
“The world is too much with us”—the lines ofWordsworth’s well-known poem echoed in my mind as I thoughtabout my remarks today, forthe world has intruded on us this year in ways wenever would have imagined. The Universityhad not officially closed for a daysince 1978. This year it closed three times. Twice it was forcases of extremeweather—first for superstorm Sandy and then for Nemo, the record-breakingFebruary blizzard. The third was of course the day of Boston’s lockdown intheaftermath of the tragic Marathon bombings. This was a year that challengedfundamentalassumptions about life’s security, stability and predictability.
Yet as I reflected on theseintrusions from a world so very much with us, I was struck byhow we at Harvardare so actively engaged in shaping that world and indeed in addressing somanyof the most important and trying questions that these recent events have posed.
Just two weeks ago, climatescientists and disaster relief workers gathered here for a two-day conferenceco-sponsored by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the HarvardUniversityCenter for the Environment. They came to explore the very issues presentedbySandy and Nemo and to consider how academic researchers and workers on theground cancollaborate more effectively.
This gathering represents justone example of the wide range of activities across theUniversity dedicated toaddressing the challenges of climate change. How can we advance thesciencethat helps us understand climate change—and perhaps avert it? How can wedevisesolutions—from new technologies to principles of urban design—that mightmitigate it?How can we envision the public policies to manage and respond toit? Harvard is deeplyengaged with the broad issues of energy andenvironment—offering more than 250 courses inthis area, gathering 225 facultythrough our environment center and its programs, enrolling100 doctoralstudents from 7 Schools and many different disciplines in a graduateconsortiumdesigned to broaden their understanding of environmental issues. Our facultyarestudying atmospheric composition and working to develop renewable energysources; theyare seeking to manage rising oceans and to reimagine cities foran era of increasinglythreatening weather; they are helping to fashionenvironmental regulations and internationalclimate agreements.
So the weather isn’t somethingthat simply happens at Harvard, even though it may haveseemed that way when wehad to close twice this year. It is a focus of study and of research, aswework to confront the implications of climate change and help shape national andinternationalresponses to its extremes.
When Boston experienced thetragedy of the Marathon bombings last month, the city andsurroundingmunicipalities went into lockdown on April 19 to help ensure the capture oftheescaped suspect, and Harvard responded in extraordinary ways. Within ourowncommunity, students, faculty and staff went well beyond their ordinaryresponsibilities tosupport one another and keep the University operatingsmoothly and safely underunprecedented circumstances. But we also witnessedour colleagues’ magnificent efforts tomeet the needs of Boston and our other neighborsin the crisis. The Harvard Police worked withother law enforcement agencies,and several of our officers played a critical role in saving the lifeof thetransit officer wounded in Watertown. Doctors, nurses and other staff, manyfrom ouraffiliated hospitals, performed a near-miracle in ensuring that everyinjured person who arrivedat a hospital survived. Years of disaster planningand emergency readiness enabled theseinstitutions to act in a stunninglycoordinated and effective manner. I am deeply proud of thecontributions madeby members of the Harvard community in the immediate aftermath of thebombings.
But our broader and ongoingresponsibility as a university is to ask and address the largerquestions anysuch tragedy poses: to prepare for the next crisis and the one after that, evenaswe work to prevent them; to help us all understand the origins and themeaning of suchterrible events in human lives and societies. We do this workin the teaching and research towhich we devote ourselves every day.