As a kid, I was growing up in an era of celebration of the Civil War centennial, with a lot of 'Lost Cause' emphasis on the Confederacy. I used to play Civil War soldiers with my brothers as a child, and my older brother always insisted that he got to be Lee, and I got be Grant. I never knew that Grant won until quite some time had passed.
I've always done more than I ever thought I would. Becoming a professor - I never would have imagined that. Writing books - I never would have imagined that. Getting a Ph.D. - I'm not sure I would even have imagined that. I've lived my life a step at a time. Things sort of happened.
Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries, no processes for identifying the dead in the battle. There weren't any dog tags, and there was no next-of-kin notification. You didn't necessarily even hear what the fate of your loved ones had been. It was up to their comrades to write and inform you.
I think that issues of gender have been discussed widely at Harvard. But I think I was chosen clearly on the merits, and I wish to operate as president on the merits. I think, on one level, we might say that I can affirm that women have the aptitude to do science or to do anything, including being president of Harvard.
I never planned my career. I never planned to be president of Harvard. People would have thought I was crazy, probably, at the age of 8 or 10 or 20, if I had said that. So what I would say to people planning their careers is to be ready to improvise. Be ready to follow up on opportunities as they unfold.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history, a war that would presage the slaughter of World War I's Western Front and the global carnage of the twentieth century.
We have been telling and hearing and reading war stories for millennia. Their endurance may lie in their impossibility; they can never be complete, for the tensions and the contradictions within them will never be eliminated or resolved. That challenge is essential to their power and their attraction. War stories matter.
As we have sought through the centuries to define ourselves as human beings and as nations through the prisms of history and literature, no small part of that effort has drawn us to the subject of war. We might even say that the humanities began with war and from war, and have remained entwined with it ever since.
When I address admitted students each spring, I ask them to consider two questions: Why would Harvard be the right place for the person I am? Why would it be the right place for the person that I want to become? These questions, in my mind, get at the heart of any admissions process.
As a scholar, you don't want to repeat yourself, ever. You're supposed to say it once, publish it, and then it's published, and you don't say it again. If someone comes and gives a scholarly paper about something they've already published, that's just terrible. As a university president, you have to say the same thing over and over and over.