The following coverage of Congressman Barney Frank’s Class Day address at Harvard University was excerpted from an article, “A Class Day Doubleheader,” by Colleen Walsh, which appeared in the May 23 edition of the Harvard Gazette.
This year, Harvard’s time-honored tradition of Class Day, the informal gathering of students, friends, and families in Tercentenary Theatre the day before the Commencement ceremony, included an interesting twist.
In the past, comedians and politicians have often taken the stage to deliver the keynote address, but typically not together. For the first time in years, two speakers—actor, writer, and comedian Andy Samberg, and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank ’61, J.D. ’77—took turns at the outdoor dais to offer the seniors parting words of wit and wisdom.
Watch Congressman Frank’s address:
Samberg, the lovably nerdy cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” is perhaps most famous for his humorous digital video shorts, often created with his musical comedy group The Lonely Island, who parody pop culture on the show. The comical clips have garnered him an Emmy Award and a legion of YouTube fans.
Frank, who has represented the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts since 1981, addressed the crowd first. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Frank began his political career in Boston as a top assistant to Mayor Kevin White. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for eight years before winning a seat in the U.S. House. The outspoken Frank was chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services from 2007 to 2011. He remains the committee’s ranking Democrat.
Known for his work ethic, his intelligence, and his quick wit, Frank, a strong supporter of civil rights and financial regulation, was a lead author of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the financial reform effort that was signed into law in 2010. He will not seek re-election this fall.
Frank offered quips as well as political points.
He cautioned graduates who are planning careers in public office never to discard a gift or trinket “within a mile of where it was given to you.” Equally important, he said, “Be sure that you obey every law that you have voted for.”
He warned the graduates not to use metaphors in public policy debates. He acknowledged that some political partisanship is inevitable, but said that idealism and pragmatism are not competing mindsets. In the end, he asked, “What good are a set of ideals if they are unrealized?”
Turning to foreign policy, Frank urged his listeners to join him in calling for the United States to end its billion dollars in regular assistance to Europe. Frank referenced Secretary of State George Marshall’s Harvard Commencement speech of 1947, during which he announced the Marshall Plan, the allied roadmap on how to rebuild Europe after World War II.
At that time, he said, Europe was “poor and hungry and defenseless, and facing a brutal Soviet Union.” The current situation is vastly different, and “65 years later, too little has changed in our policy,” he added. “America continues to commit tens of billions of dollars that we could otherwise use for very important purposes,” including education, environmental solutions, and health research.
“I hope that is an issue with which you will engage, and I look forward to at least some of you being on our side as we right the balance.”