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Sarasota Monday, Mar. 2, 2020 2 years ago

Harvard president visits Booker High, speaks to students

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Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow was impressed with Booker High School's students and resources.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

When Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow visits a high school, he knows he’s bound to field questions and quips about how to get in one of the world’s most prestigious colleges. So he comes prepared.

Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow (standing) speaks to students Wednesday afternoon at Booker High School.

He jokes that the admissions department is above his pay grade.

Bacow, who owns a house on Longboat Key, was in the area to attend a function marking the 60th anniversary of the Harvard Club of Sarasota. So he stopped by Booker High School on Wednesday afternoon to give a speech in the school’s auditorium before mingling with students and faculty and touring the school. He came away impressed.

For example, Bacow visited a Law Academy classroom that looks almost exactly like a real court of law and met with art students who are being taught by teachers who are connected to the Ringling College of Art & Design.

Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow (wearing blazer) visits an art class Wednesday afternoon at Booker High School.

“I only wish I had these kinds of opportunities when I was in high school,” Bacow said. “Students here at Booker are being exposed to all sorts of things that I never could have imagined.”

While he was certainly intrigued by the faculty and resources, Bacow was perhaps most inspired by the students he met.

“These kids are quite mature and articulate, much more so than I think we were when we were their age,” he said. “And I think they're really focused on how they can take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to them here.”

Since becoming president, Bacow has made a regular habit of visiting high schools. Obviously, his typical interactions with students come once they’ve reached Harvard, so the visits present an opportunity to see what is on the minds of national youth before they’ve left the nest or even committed to a college.

“When I graduated from high school, I had never met anybody who had a Ph.D,” Bacow said. “Part of what I hope to do with these kids is to demystify what it's like to be in college, to engage with a college professor … and certainly to engage with a college president.”

Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow and Booker High School students pose for a photo Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the many conversations Bacow had with students while he toured the school, Booker teens had that exact opportunity when the president fielded questions for several minutes after the conclusion of his speech.

Bacow’s prepared remarks focused on his childhood in Pontiac, Mich. as the son of refugees in a home where English was the second language. Back then, he never imagined he would wind up where he is today. And he stressed to Booker students that they don’t have to know exactly what they want to be yet either, saying that a career is only recognizable with the power of hindsight.

“I tell you this story because I think that all of you should try and aim as high as you can,” Bacow said. “You can do anything, literally anything, if you put your mind to it. … And if anybody tells you that you can't, just tell them the president of Harvard told them that yes, you can.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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