BY MATT HUTCHINS
Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-MA) was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his lifelong dedication to public service on Monday, December 1st at a special convocation in Sanders Theater. A special convocation has only been held on rare occasions, with the past honorees including George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust celebrated Kennedy’s 46 years of “passion and compassion” in the Senate, fighting for improvement of the well-being of those in need by advocating better health coverage for workers, parity for the disabled, a higher minimum wage, reduction in the voting age to 18, better veterans’ benefits, and more funding for education. She quoted Kennedy as having lived by his maxim that, “The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs.” Faust lauded Kennedy’s dedication to the funding of education and biomedical research and elicited a laugh from the Senator and the crowd by stating that his greatest acheivement was quite possibly having scored a touchdown in the 1955 Harvard-Yale game.
The event was attended by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator and Vice-president elect Joe Biden (D-DE), who received a standing ovation upon his arrival. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer ’64 delivered introductory remarks in which he shared personal experiences from his time as special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee while the Senator was its Chairman. He said that while working along side noted attorney Kenneth Feinberg, he witnessed Kennedy’s acumen in bipartisanship and his generous, commonsense approach to statesmanship. “Fourty-six years ago, Senator Kennedy took up the Kennedy call to public service, and he has worked hard since then to make impossible dreams come true for people around the world.” Justice Breyer’s introduction was followed by a stirring performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Senator Kennedy then stepped to the podium to resounding applause. He noted that since his father entered Harvard 100 years ago, the University has become a second home for his entire family, and that Harvard had taught him about everything from football to the importance of public service. He then took a moment to recognize the significance of the current moment in the nation’s history, stating that there is no other moment in which he would rather receive his honorary degree and that the election of Barack Obama ’91 as the 44th President of the United States as a new beginning for the nation.
“We as a people can rise to a challenge, embrace change, and renew our destiny.” He noted that although he has often been derided as a liberal, he believes in what his brother John F. Kennedy said, that if to be a liberal is to be a champion of the people, then he will proudly be one. Kennedy concluded by stating that we are all on a journey of hope which will carry us into a future which will last beyond us but in which our legacies will live on.