REFLECTIONS: The meaning of Veritas revealed at the Kennedy School


SarmadBy Sarmad Palijo, MPA’14

When I first came to the Kennedy School I asked someone — What does Veritas mean? — After all, it is Harvard University’s motto. I was told it means ‘truth’. In the last two years, I never visited this question again but upon graduation I have been reflecting on what Veritas means to me now.

Coming from Karachi, Pakistan, the first truth for me was sadly the safety in Cambridge and Harvard. I could walk around anywhere I liked and could interact with people from all over the world (although I missed Karachi’s sunny days).

Later, the amazing classes, professors and the lessons we all learned together became my truth. I was learning new things from my readings, assignments, class discussions and even Facebook updates from my supremely talented class fellows.

This, I thought, was to be the ultimate truth of my Harvard experience. But this beautiful illusion remained short lived and was completely shattered last year when all the violence, death, destruction and chaos I had left behind in Pakistan — ultimately followed me here. Last year, like my friends and family in Karachi, my beloved friends in Boston were dangerously close to an terror attack. Suddenly, a new truth had dawned on me.

I discovered that Karachi is no different from Cambridge; that these great halls of learning were not meant to protect us permanently, but to give us shelter so that we can go back to the world better armed with new knowledge, new friends and, above all, new truths.

Here, I have not only learned more about the suffering that violence can cause, but have also learned to wonder about the pain of the other side. I have learned that a child dying in Mumbai is equal to a child in Peshawar; that Palestinian mothers pray for peace everyday just like Israeli mothers; that there are so many shades of right and wrong – that forever now – there is no black and white for me. I don’t know if I should thank my professors and classmates for these lessons or if I should blame them for this realization.

Harvard Kennedy School is a school about strangers – about making them your own – about worrying for them, about trying to learn from them and, above all, being curious about them.

I have learned here, that in a moment of tragedy, there are no strangers and that those suffering in faraway corners of the world are not strangers. I have learned that, as we move forward, we must dedicate ourselves to a purpose – to a cause. A purpose to help, support and shield the countless men women and children who need people like us to stand by them.

The realization when even Boston couldn’t shield me from the conflict I thought I had left behind in Pakistan has only left me with one option – to try and understand the pain and violence of today’s entangled world from Kabul to Kiev and from Beirut to Baghdad, so that I can try and reduce this pain and suffering in my own humble way.

This is what Veritas means to me now!

As we graduate, we all carry an immense weight of our dreams in our hearts; dreams of serving our communities, cities, villages or countries. We know this quiet radiant weight intimately as it reminds us each and every day the purpose of our journey at the Kennedy School.

Today, I stand here more hopeful than before for I have witnessed the compassion of the people I have met here. Today, I end my journey with more questions than answers, yet with the certainty that many of my friends and colleagues here will labor over many thankless nights to help protect justice all around the world.

Nature has always managed to balance. Tyranny will always lead to resistance. Deceit will always lead to destruction. Too much power will always lead to downfall. Male will be equalized by Female, Young by Old, white by black…

From the midnight shadows of the deepest darkness – dawn emerges with a single bright ray of light. It is a lone spring leaf that brings an end to the longest winter. And this year we have learned a thing or two about long winters! To my beautiful class of 2014 – let’s become that spring leaf – let’s go around the globe and destroy the winter forests surrounding our world. God speed: May success greet you at every turn.

Sarmad Palijo is Harvard Kennedy School’s MPA 2014 and Edward S Mason Fellow 2013. He is a senior broadcast media executive and a political activist from Sindh, Pakistan.