Alice’s Adventures in Harvard’s World of Wonders
Wexner Israel Fellows (Class 27) and Elisha Gechter, Program Manager, Wexner Israel Programs studying hard for finals.
Arriving at Harvard I felt like Alice in Wonderland. It was as if a whole world beyond my imagination was unfolding before my eyes. Down the rabbit hole I went, as did all 7 of my classmates in the Israel Fellowship (Class 27). While we were diving into concepts and ideas, new doors appeared that opened to worlds of thought filled with new notions and inspiration. Peeping through the keyholes we saw fascinating gardens filled with pastures to explore. At Harvard we found various keys — some were peculiar and tiny, others were big and smooth and some notions were easy to comprehend, while others we grappled with. Some doors were too small for us to fit through so we had to take a chance and adapt ourselves. Like Alice, we chose to sip from a bottle with a "drink me" sign and eat from an exotic cake. We soon found our minds vastly expanded.
As we approach graduation, I reflect on the countless intriguing people with diverse viewpoints and visions that I encountered this year. Some challenged my worldview, while others actually changed it. Interacting with people from 77 countries with different paths of life, with experience in non-government and private sectors and that share a profound sense of service made me question and redefine the notion of ‘public service’. This mosaic of people making up the human landscape is one of the immeasurable gains of studying at the Harvard Kennedy School. So, I offer a toast to them and to the extraordinary group of people I’ve had the fortune to meet.
The world that lies beyond these gates of wisdom holds opportunities as well as setbacks and perils. Undoubtedly, we will encounter a despicable Queen of Hearts as we embark on our next journey. Alice faced tyranny and folly and stood up to it revealing injustice. The question for us is how we will handle the next leadership challenges we encounter. Will we step aside and allow bullies to arbitrarily react to their critics with “off with their heads!”? Or will we use the bag of skills we’ve accumulated to create understanding and enhance tolerance? Will we rely on the friendships we forged and seek advice from our classmates and professors? Being a student at Harvard is a privilege, but it entails a duty to spread the wisdom, share the knowledge and put it to good use. It carries an obligation to challenge ignorance, confront injustice and stand up to oppression.
On this day, we are standing as Alice stood in front of the mysterious Cheshire Cat. Ahead lies a myriad of trails: some are worn down by the footsteps of those who graduated before us, others never explored by humankind. Alice asked the Cat which path she ought to take. He answered that it depended a great deal on where she wanted to go. Alice then said she did not care much where she goes, and the Cat countered that it didn’t matter then which path she’d take. Alice retorted, “So long as I get somewhere” and the Cat answered calmly, “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.”
Some of us in this graduating class have a concrete vision and know exactly where we want to go. Some of us, not quite. We will choose paths and switch paths as we move through our lives. How should we shape the world around us and add our own unique value? This question rests heavily on our shoulders today as we face our inner Cheshire Cat. As long as we keep moving forward, holding our heads high and carrying with us the bag of treasures we’ve gathered here at Harvard — the profound learning that widened our thoughts as we went down the rabbit hole; the magnificent friendships we’ve forged in countless tea parties; our moral courage to stand up to Queens of Hearts everywhere — we will certainly get somewhere. So go ahead Wexner Israel Fellows, my dear friends, take your path!
Merav Horsandi works in the Non-Proliferation Department at the Strategic Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry. She represents the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in leading intergovernmental work in foreign and security matters, as well as coordinating international cooperation on these issues. As part of Israel’s diplomatic corps, she has served in Amman, Jordan and Washington, D.C. Merav can be reached at Merav_Horsandi@hks16.harvard.edu.
"Last Words" on Behalf of The Wexner Senior Leaders
Given by Anat Horovitz at the WSL final dinner
I suspect that I was given the honor of saying the last words on behalf of the group, being the sole defense attorney in the group. It is our final evening here at Harvard, the angry men and women of the jury have already retired, and what can I say in respect of our deep and heartfelt gratitude to each and every member of the staff sitting here, that will not retract or diminish all that has already been said?
During the three minutes that I was given to speak, I would like to focus upon a dimension that has not been fully articulated thus far, namely the intense emotional adventure that we have all experienced here, naturally in various degrees and forms.
Growing up in Jerusalem in the home of two German Jewish parents whose mother and fathers did not survive the Holocaust, I found solace in children books, one of my childhood favorites being "Alice in Wonderland". I have since grown to realize that "Alice in Wonderland" is not really a children's book, and when I began to reflect and later attempt to express in words the sensation of studying with this amazing group of seniors over the past month — the metaphor that kept presenting itself in my thoughts was that the experience felt like falling into a rabbit's hole. Just like on that lazy summer afternoon, when Alice went down: "never once considering how in the world she was to get out again".
It was a true wonderland we encountered here at Harvard. The array of characters we met along the way were no less intriguing, unique and curious than the White Rabbit, the smiling Cheshire cat, and the smoking caterpillar encountered by Alice. On this particular occasion, I'll resist the temptation to draw analogies between the Mad Hatter, whose first greeting words to Alice were: "you need a haircut", or the March Hare, who offered wine when none was to be had, to several of the fascinating and unforgettable characters we met at the Kennedy School wonderland.
I find it extremely difficult to go back in time and recall how we responded to our new environment during those first few days of the program. In the words of Alice: "I could tell you my adventures beginning from this morning… but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then". I have no doubt that this past month has changed us in ways that we do not yet grasp, first and foremost by stretching the limits of our imagination and exposing us to a kaleidoscope of novel ideas, experiences and personal conversations, that would have never occurred had we not been so generously invited to fall through the rabbit hole.
Unfortunately, it seems tonight that we are on the verge of waking up and finding ourselves sitting back on the soft grass, besides our families and colleagues at work. I'm sure that each and every one of us has thought at times, just like Alice, that "it was much pleasanter at home… when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits". And yet, as Alice continues, "it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life!"
Much literary research has been published about "Alice in Wonderland" (including a recent study I spotted yesterday at the Coop). Some have regarded the book as a portrayal of the painful process of growing up. I have no doubt that we have all grown (in more than one respect) during our period here in Cambridge, and we are naturally pleased with our expanded horizons and personal developmental. However, I urge you to continue and invite us, whenever possible, to plunge again into various rabbit holes, so that we can maintain through all "our riper years", as Lewis Carroll writes at the end of the book, "the simple and loving heart of her (our) childhood".
Thank you all — from the bottom of the well and from the depth of our hearts!