“OUR MODERN CONCEPTIONS OF SERVICE are still rooted in norms from generations ago,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in May as he addressed a graduating class whose time at Harvard Kennedy School had been defined by the global pandemic. “Some of those norms are timeless traditions. But others are long overdue for an update. You are going to have to figure out which is which, before we run out of time.”

The School community was scattered by the pandemic, switching to remote learning when COVID-19 made most in-person classes impossible. While congratulating the graduates on their resilience during the previous, unprecedented year, Buttigieg urged them to use the tragedy as an opportunity to rethink what public service could be.

“Graduates, no matter what path led you here, your careers in service need not look the same as they might have a generation ago,” he said. “What we need most is for you to demonstrate—on terms that are informed by, but never captive of, tradition—that public service is still the way we change the world. These otherwise grim beginnings of our decade have demonstrated that the guardrails of the achievable aren’t as fixed as some had thought. So ask yourself: What policy changes once thought impossible should we pursue? Which social norms that once bound us can we lay aside, and which must we preserve? What innovations, social as well as technological, did we once think of as centuries away but now might be prepared to deliver in our time?”

Headshot of Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF.

“If there is one thing you can do to change poverty, it is education. It’s the best ladder we know out of poverty.”

Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, on humanitarian crises during 
the pandemic, at a Belfer Center event in March

Headshot of Former President Bill Clinton

“With North Korea, you have to know what you won’t do—and you have to do everything else.”

Former President Bill Clinton, delivering the Stephen W. Bosworth Memorial Lecture in Diplomacy, in April.

Headshot of Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“There is one flat-out true statement. Women have to work harder. There is plenty of room for mediocre men—there is no room for mediocre women.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, at a Forum event in March on women and diplomacy.

Headshot of Foreign affairs specialist Fiona Hill

“We have to find some method of taking the edge off this confrontational relationship. There’s no good reason for why we’re just careening from crisis to confrontation and back again.”

Foreign affairs specialist Fiona Hill, speaking on U.S.-Russian relations at a Belfer Center event in March.

Headshot of Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ and Emmett Till’s cousin.

“It’s hard to sell people as an equal that came out of slavery. … It’s just something very difficult to overcome, but people are overcoming.”

Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ and Emmett Till’s cousin, speaking at an event on race and narrative hosted by the Belfer Center in February.

Headshot of Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute.

“We shouldn’t disagree less; we should disagree better.”

Yuval Levin, of the American Enterprise Institute, speaking in March at a Forum event on the future of the GOP.

Photos by UNICEF /  Nesbitt | Cheryl Evans Pedersen | Hayden Schiff