Yet while optimistic about the future, Bacow said he also finds himself wondering as the academic year begins “whether or not we can bring the inclinations that we’ve had over the past year and a half — to be generous, to be open, to be understanding, to be kind — to this space and to many other spaces across this wonderful institution that have stood empty for far too long. How can we ensure that the capacities that we’ve all developed and expanded in the face of trauma persist and enrich the months and years to come? How can we preserve this sense of community? How can we demonstrate to our first-year students, who I welcomed just yesterday at Convocation, that Harvard — a place that often awes and intimidates the best of us — is really ready to embrace them?”

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As a guide he pointed to his Jewish faith, which “teaches us that we sanctify God when we treat others with kindness and respect” and that puts “special emphasis on the small moments — the everyday interactions that shape how people feel about each other and about themselves.”

Being part of the Harvard community “creates ceaseless opportunities to excel in small moments, to treat equally well all of the many people who come to Harvard to live, to work, to learn, and to try and strive to, I hope, create a better future for everyone,” said Bacow. “May we commit ourselves — this year of all years — to making our University a bit kinder, a bit gentler, a bit more generous, a bit more understanding. May Harvard be as humane as it is humbling. And may we all stay safe and healthy in the year to come.”

Bacow’s comments resonated with Anya Bassett, who attended the brief service. “I have been looking forward to this for 18 months,” said Bassett, director of studies in the Social Studies Department and a senior lecturer. “It is incredibly meaningful to be back in this community, this space, to hear President Bacow talk about our core values, [and] to be reminded of who we want to be at Harvard as we return to campus.”