“Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to the Harvard Kennedy School.”
These are the words that in March 2012 marked one of the happiest days of my life, and the beginning of an extraordinary journey.
My first days at the Kennedy School were, without a doubt, a very humbling experience. The first weeks of school, filled with ‘What’s your story?’ questions, helped me realize what an extraordinary group of people the MPP class was. I was amazed by people’s experiences and what they had accomplished. I couldn’t believe these people were real.
And, yet, the respect and admiration I felt for each one of you at the time fell short. What I came to realize was that this was a group not only of extraordinarily bright people, but more importantly, a group of extraordinarily committed people: People whose intelligence and talent are matched by their commitment to serve others: People who came to Harvard not to see what they could get for themselves, but to ask themselves what they could do for others. These are the people I have had the honor to call my classmates, and who I now have the privilege to call my friends.
To me, this is precisely what defines the Kennedy School: A place where the extraordinary is the ordinary. Contrary to what HKS has made us believe; having lunch with a former President, meeting with a Nobel Prize winner, and questioning Heads of State in the Forum (sometimes all in one day) is actually not normal. We are part of a school where extraordinary professors, extraordinary classmates and extraordinary program administrators are the norm, rather than the exception. We have become part of a community that every single day makes extraordinary efforts to make sure that no one falls behind, that all voices are heard, that we reach our own potential, that we never stop dreaming, and that we always feel at home here.
It is with mixed feelings that we celebrate our graduation. We feel pride and satisfaction – gratitude toward our loved ones – and the excitement of going back to the people who inspired us to come here in the first place and try to make a change. At the same time, we feel the sadness of saying goodbye to our friends, and the nervousness and anxiety of what lies ahead. Most importantly, we all leave the Kennedy School with a strong sense of responsibility.
The world we are going back to could not be more different from our HKS community. Outside the red bricks of Harvard; conflict, discrimination, inequality and injustice seem to be the norm. As Kennedy School graduates, we now have the responsibility to share with the world what we have learned here. I am not only referring to complex statistical tools, and fancy frameworks, but more importantly, to the sense of community we have all helped create here. I hope that, when we go back, we all use our Harvard degree to bring support to the efforts of others; give a voice to those who are traditionally silenced, and inspire people to reach their own potential. I hope that wherever we go, whatever we do, we bring the spirit of the Kennedy School to those that, for one reason or another, are not among the list of graduates.
The challenge we face is a daunting one, and we will fall more than once in our efforts to bring about the changes we aspire to. Always remember, when times get tough, that you are not alone. You can be sure there are other 30,000 HKS graduates working, from their own trench, to make this world a better place.
Two years ago we started this journey together, and we will remain together as our stories unfold. Though we may be leaving the Kennedy School, the Kennedy School will never leave us: What we’ve learned, the people we’ve met, and the persons we’ve grown to become will remain with us for life.
Congratulations Class of 2014! It’s been an honor.
Karla Petersen is a Master in Public Policy student from Mexico, where she worked for the federal government before coming to the Kennedy School. After HKS, she will continue working on issues related to Mexico at the Harvard Global Equity Initiative.