- Photograph by Jim Harrison
The undergraduate English address by Anthony Hernandez ’12, titled “Harvard’s Enduring Contradictions,” was inspired by a course Hernandez took as a sophomore with the Reverend Peter J. Gomes. Hernandez said he had looked forward to hearing Gomes speak at Commencement, but the Memorial Church minister passed away last year.
If Gomes left him with one lesson, Hernandez said, “It’s that Harvard is a place of contradictions.”
For example, at the time of Harvard’s founding, women were not eligible for admission, yet the school owed its very existence to “the religious agitations of Anne Hutchinson” and the dissent she represented. Widener Library, one of Harvard’s iconic buildings, was commissioned by a woman “at a time when her own daughter wouldn’t have been allowed to set foot inside.”
“We are at a place that a first-generation college student and a fourth-generation legacy can each call home,” Hernandez continued. “A school where someone who enters as a pre-med can leave an art history concentrator; a place that is forward-looking yet slow-moving; a university that predates America, yet is intensely American and international at the same time.”
Hernandez noted that Gomes “was a man of contradictions” himself: “He was a WASPy, African-American, baptized-Catholic-turned-Baptist preacher, a friend of Ronald Reagan and a role model for the gay community—and he fit in at Harvard as well as anyone.”
“For many of us,” he concluded, “experiencing contradiction might seem worthy of hiding, yet Peter Gomes was a man who saw strength in them.”