Deval L. Patrick, who recently concluded two terms as the 71st governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will be the principal speaker at the Afternoon Exercises of Harvard’s 364th Commencement on May 28.
“Deval Patrick is an extraordinarily distinguished alumnus, a deeply dedicated public servant, and an inspiring embodiment of the American dream,” said Harvard University President Drew Faust. “We greatly look forward to welcoming him home to Harvard on Commencement Day.”
Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Patrick came to Massachusetts at age 14, having won a scholarship to Milton Academy through the Boston-based organization A Better Chance. He earned admission to Harvard College, as the first in his family to attend college, and spent a year in Africa after graduation on a Rockefeller Fellowship before studying for his law degree at Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.
Early in his career, he served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Los Angeles, as a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund working on voting rights and death-penalty cases, and then as a partner at the Boston law firm Hill & Barlow.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton named him assistant attorney general for civil rights, the nation’s top civil rights post. In that role, he led the Justice Department’s efforts in such areas as prosecuting hate crimes and enforcing laws on employment discrimination, fair lending, and rights for the disabled.
Edouard E. Plummer works out of a room inside a Harlem public school that would be spacious — if it were a storage closet. Still, he has found a way to pack its shelves and cover its walls with a growing testament to a half-century of achievements that rival those of headmasters at the swankiest prep schools.
He would know; he’s friends with a lot of them. Since 1964, he has taken promising poor and minority children and, in one intense year, given them the academic and social tools to get into — and thrive at — the nation’s leading schools and beyond.
“This one went to Lawrenceville, then Yale,” Mr. Plummer said, pointing a worn yardstick to old news clippings and fliers on the wall. “This one, Peddie. Hotchkiss, St. Paul’s. This one went to Harvard undergrad and Harvard Law. This one’s a doctor. He ran for Congress.”
His smile betrayed his satisfaction. His words, however, underscored that despite getting more than 500 young people into 108 different boarding and preparatory schools though the Wadleigh Scholars Program, more needed to be done.
When he first set out on his mission, memories of segregation were fresh in his mind. He had attended West Virginia State University and, in 1949, applied to the Foreign Service. Despite having done well in history, German and biology, he was rejected. “They said, ‘Thank you, but we have nothing to offer you,’ ” he recalled. “You know why they did that. It was the color of my skin.”