Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz
Founded in 1636 Harvard is 371 years old and the oldest college in the New
World. There was no initial conferring of degrees. It was founded when John
Harvard, a protestant minister, left his library of books to the Puritan
community in his “Will” to further education on his death. Books were rare,
expensive, and highly coveted in the young Massachusetts Bay Colony. The
second oldest college in America is The College Of William and Mary and it
was nearly 60 years later they got their charter.
Harvard started as a theological school to train ministers for practice, and as
a school to educate the young men of the rising merchant class so they could
compete with Europe. Today, it has the largest college library in the world
and the second largest library on earth (Library of Congress being #1). It is
modeled after Oxford University in England with the “house” system.
Each year at Commencement, Harvard confers Honorary Degrees to a select
group of people who have great accomplishment. The fields of
accomplishment vary widely. This year, finally, William H. Gates III got his
Harvard degree. He was also the speaker at Afternoon Exercises. This is a
curiosity to me because the Ivy Leagues are just so weird, watching talented,
brilliant people maneuver around each other.
Bill Gates started at Harvard in 1973. In 1975 he formed Microsoft Inc. and
dumped Harvard in his junior year. He felt timing was everything and he had
to get on the move. By the way, as a WASP with a private school education
(Lakeside) he was already college educated when he stepped foot in
Cambridge. Those guys all have Latin and Greek and Classics under their
belt when they walk in the door. As a public school boy I was always playing
catch-up with that crowd. Some of the people I worked with still remembered
Bill Gates and would relate stories. He wasn’t particularly important when you
consider the talent pool hanging around Cambridge.
This is where that crowd gets funny. Most people would think getting into an
Ivy League college is a big deal. Gates simply saw it as another instrument
and when he didn’t need that tool he moved on. Likewise, years later in the
1990’s, I remember Harvard sued Gates because he had written some of his
proprietary software on Harvard computers, which is a big “no,no”. (That
means, technically, Harvard owned the material.) Of course, at that time the
only computers were in schools or military installations. Harvard could care
less they were taking on the wealthiest man in the world, they were out to put
a stomping on him. While all this is going on, Microsoft continued to recruit
heavily at Harvard. Gates, himself, was not a presence nor did Microsoft give
money to the Endowment. William H. Gates III and the “President and Fellows
of Harvard College” were at war.
So one might conclude they were enemies. Move to 2007 and Bill Gates gets
a “Doctor of Laws” degree and is the Commencement Day speaker. In the
realms of “True” power things get awful weird.
An honorary “Doctor of Laws” degree is actually a rather empty diploma. It’s
the generic degree given to anyone who needs a degree. For example, to
teach at Harvard you must have a doctorate. Well, there are plenty of self-
educated people of enormous accomplishment who have not attended
college. Harvard handles that by conferring a “Doctor of Laws” degree on
that individual and then they are set to teach. This should not be confused
with a “Doctor of Jurisprudence” or,“J.D.” which is a degree to practice law.
So, after 32 years, Bill Gates circled around and got a Harvard diploma. From
what I’ve observed about him he was there more for the opportunity to make
the afternoon speech. He doesn’t seem like one to care about honorifics.
There is another aspect to the 2007 Harvard Commencement on Thursday
worth mention. The promotion of cadets to officers in the ROTC program. An
hour before the Morning Exercises, gathered around the bronze statue of
John Harvard in the Old Yard, (and it was roped off) cadets took their oath to
country and honor. Represented was students who became commissioned
officers in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army. During
Commencement (Morning Exercises) after the National Anthem each was
recognized on the stage in Tercentenary Theater ( in the “Old Yard” in front
of Memorial Church where the main event is held.)
“The invocation was delivered — by Chaplain Alexander S. Daley, Class of ’
57, who was commissioned on the same stage 50 years ago — remarks were
delivered by Stephen Rosen, the Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National
Security and Military Affairs.”
It must be a difficult decision for most Ivy League graduates to choose public
service over the opportunity to build a moneyed career. This country was
already at war when they joined the ROTC program. They stuck with it and I
tip my hat to them. One Army officer was not able to attend this, his own
commencement, because he finished his studies early, back in April. He was
commissioned and deployed.