Selection as chief marshal of the Alumni for Commencement is a special honor, and the Harvard Alumni Association continues to follow the tradition whereby the Twenty-fifth Reunion Class elects one of its members to serve in this position. The chief marshal represents all of the alumni of the University, presides at a spread honoring the assembled dignitaries and guests, and leads the afternoon alumni procession. For the Class of 1989 we have elected Richard Barth to serve as Chief Marshal.
Harvard-Related Activities: Founded an organization called CHANCE that focuses on providing high school juniors who have the potential to go to college but are not on track to do so with the academic preparation needed for college admission while also pairing each student with a mentor on campus
Achievements and Honors: Aspen Institute Fellow
Major Charitable or Other Activities: Serve on three not-for-profit boards and one for-profit: 50CAN, The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, ROADS Charter High Schools, and General Assembly LLC
Reflections on Harvard: I arrived at Harvard inspired by the fact that it was an extraordinary university in an urban setting. It lived up to every possible hope I could have had at the age of 18, and more. At Harvard, I met extraordinary people—classmates and professors—from all walks of life and was exposed to ideas that set me on the course I have pursued day in and day out for the past 24 years.
I was an American history concentrator at Harvard, and in my sophomore year, I took a seminar with David Donald, the preeminent historian on the American South. That seminar led to my deep, personal inquiry into the history of race relations in our country, and ultimately to my focus on the role education has played, and can play, in ensuring our amazing country fulfills its unbelievable promise. On a personal level, David Donald was a model for me of how to encourage the curiosity of others and have the highest of expectations—I vividly remember sitting with him in his office (he had a huge dog who was always there as well) while he taught me how to improve the way I wrote. Talk about myth busting when it comes to those who question whether Harvard cares about undergraduate education—here was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner helping to rewrite whole paragraphs I had painstakingly drafted.
Being in an urban setting, I also had the chance to serve as a Big Brother during my freshman year. The 10-year-old whom I was spending time with each week had an older brother in high school who clearly had potential but no plan for himself. Informed by that experience, I worked alongside classmates to start an organization dedicated to helping high school juniors get on track for college. Founding an organization was rewarding, and I remember vividly the weekly stress of securing free food from Cambridge-area restaurants for 60 high school students. I learned quickly that preparing for the SAT was in and of itself not a compelling draw—but dinner guaranteed a full house.
From this experience I learned that almost everyone wants to leave the world a better place than they found it and to feel part of something bigger than themselves. I saw this when so many of my fellow classmates volunteered to tutor and teach test preparation classes. I saw it when other classmates stepped up to serve as Big Brothers, showing kids why college was a goal worth pursuing. And I saw it when restaurant owners throughout Cambridge, so many of them first-generation Americans themselves, agreed to donate food to me, week in and week out.
In the 24 years since graduating, my Harvard experiences have continued to inform my life. From helping start Teach For America after graduating (along with a number of amazing fellow Harvard folks) to now leading the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network of schools. This year, KIPP has grown to 141 schools serving over 50,000 students across the country. In communities where roughly half of students drop out of high school and only 1 in 10 will earn a college degree, KIPP is proving that it doesn’t have to be this way. Among KIPP students—95 percent of whom are African American or Latino and 86 percent of whom are from low-income families—93 percent graduate high school and 83 percent go on to college.
I am grateful for my Harvard family and honored by this nomination.