Class Struggle at Harvard

It was 40 years ago today when Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered his famous commencement address at Harvard. Solzhenitsyn’s speech mourned, or denounced, the decline of civilization in the West. You can read the speech here. Its themes are a big topic for another day.

In the meantime, on a lighter note, a friend who was present on that notable occasion, graduating from Harvard Business School, sends along this reminiscence which highlights the divisions among the academic disciplines, as they then existed:

I was at that Harvard commencement…but not with the undergraduates. It was a hot, muggy day and started to rain during Solzhenitsyn’s speech which was in the mid-afternoon after lunch and conferral of diplomas at one’s home base (B-School, in my case). He spoke in Russian which required a sentence by sentence translation, which was awkward. It was hard to listen to but, still, it was apparent that this was a memorable event, he was pulling no punches and was delivering a warning and rebuke to the complacent West. It was clear, I think to all, that it was a culturally conservative argument.

What I most remember was another shocking conservative event that took place earlier, also a harbinger of things to come. In the morning processional the undergraduates had scattered boos for the Law School, but really booed us, as did the Kennedy School graduates immediately behind us. However, we had the last laugh. As the JFK School was announced much of the B-School spontaneously burst into chants of “Proposition 13! Proposition 13!” back at them. This seminal anti-tax measure had been overwhelmingly approved in California in a referendum just two days earlier and the weeping and gnashing of teeth by those living off or intending to live off government largesse was everywhere. They had no comeback and were clearly taken aback.

Later, as each school’s graduates were ceremonially awarded their respective degrees en masse, again the Law School was booed, and then we were really booed! That caused a large chant from virtually all of us of “Proposition 13! Proposition 13!” and, much to the consternation of the assembled grandees and especially the Kennedy School grads, a fair portion of the onlookers (parents, etc.) joined in the chant as well!

I wonder whether such class divisions persist in contemporary Harvard graduation ceremonies. I doubt it. My guess is that the various schools are more monolithically on the Left now than they were then. What reason would undergraduates have to boo the Law School? And has even the Business School avoided the snares of political correctness? I wonder.


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