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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
University President Lawrence S. Bacow traveled to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine last week, touring universities and meeting with Harvard alumni at each stop.
Bacow traveled to the Middle East with a large delegation from Harvard that included Adele F. Bacow, his wife; Patricia S. Bellinger ’83, Bacow’s chief of staff; Mark C. Elliott, vice provost for international affairs; Brian K. Lee, vice president for alumni affairs and development; Sarah C. Karmon, executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association; Paul Andrew, vice president for communications and public affairs; and Tarek E. Masoud, who serves as faculty director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative.
The weeklong visit to the Middle East started in Amman, Jordan where Bacow met with alumni at an event on March 11.
Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara ’23, who is currently conducting research in Jordan and attended the alumni event in Amman, said that the meeting with Bacow was “an opportunity to form needed connections and much needed bridges, especially with Arab communities.”
Lara, a former Crimson editor, said he hopes that Bacow and Harvard officials return to Jordan soon.
“He needs to come back again,” he said. “The next president, President-elect Gay also [needs] to come more frequently to know more about Arab communities here in Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East.”
Bacow also visited the University of Jordan and met with its president, Nathir M. Obeidat.
Obeidat wrote in a tweet in Arabic that he and Bacow exchanged views on the challenges facing higher education in the world and the role universities should play in modernizing societies.
The two also discussed academic and research collaborations between the Harvard and the University of Jordan, as well as student and faculty exchanges, according to Obeidat’s twitter.
Following their stop in Jordan, the Harvard delegation traveled to Israel for an alumni event on March 13 in Tel Aviv, where Bacow sang the Israeli national anthem in Hebrew with attendees. Bacow also visited Tel Aviv University, along with an array of Israeli universities during visits to Haifa and Jerusalem.
On March 14, Bacow traveled to the University of Haifa where he met with the university’s president, Ron Robin. During the visit, Bacow discussed the relationship between the United States and Israel and challenges facing higher education in the 21st century, according to a press release from Haifa University.
The University of Haifa awarded Bacow an honorary degree two years ago in a ceremony that was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Whether addressing climate change, inequality, the future of democracy, or pushing the frontiers of knowledge, universities such as Haifa and Harvard have a vital role to play through our teaching and our research,” Bacow said during his visit, according to the University of Haifa press release.
Mona Khoury-Kassabri, vice president of strategy and diversity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, called Bacow very “modest” and “personal.”
“One of the things that was very nice to see — how much he showed an interest in things that we do at the university,” she said in an interview. “Also with the students, he asked them questions.”
In Palestine, Bacow toured Al-Quds University and met with its president, Imad Abu Kishek, and life sciences students. The meeting marked Bacow’s first visit to a Palestinian university, according to a Facebook post after the event by Al-Quds University.
Marwan K. Durzi, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate from Palestine, said he attended the alumni event with Bacow in Ramallah on March 16. Durzi said the event was a chance to discuss how Harvard and its students “can contribute to peace, justice, and equality.”
Durzi said Bacow’s visit to Palestine was an important opportunity to “see things on the ground” and highlight the “detrimental effects of the separation wall, the checkpoints and the settlements, to peace.”
“It’s a unique opportunity, also to listen from the Palestine alumni on the ground in Palestine, just to hear the challenges they’re facing on a daily basis, in order to try to make the Palestinian community’s life better,” he said.
“We emphasize the need to conduct similar visits in the future with the new president,” he added.
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.
—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.
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