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Saluting a Stalwart

Posted Monday, 23 July 2012

Interim Dean Richard Tarrant pitches in to serve GSAS with flair

During a season of transition at the Graduate School, there was one comforting constant: the familiar presence of Richard J. Tarrant, Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature, who in February agreed to serve as interim dean of GSAS.

It was a time of unease, as Dean Allan Brandt, a much-admired figure in the Harvard and GSAS communities, had announced that an illness would require him to step down in order to begin treatment. And it was a time when there was significant business on the table: GSAS had yet to conclude its 2012 admissions season, it was implementing an electronic dissertation submission system, and it was preparing for its major spring alumni events. A steady hand was needed, and there is none steadier than Tarrant, a scholar of deep commitment, long experience, and a thorough understanding of the needs of the moment.

Tarrant served as acting dean in 1995–1996 and has been a friend to GSAS in many capacities in the years since. In one of his most notable roles, Tarrant helps to host the Graduate School’s annual Centennial Medals ceremony, reading the award citations in his rich baritone and lending the appropriate weight to this significant alumni honor. Tarrant presided again this year, seamlessly filling the roles of dean and chief orator.

Tarrant’s oratorical skills have become part of Harvard legend. As Chair of the Committee on Commencement Parts, he helps to select and prepare the three students who deliver Commencement speeches each year. He works most closely with the Latin Salutatory orator (this year, Michael Velchik), smoothing out grammar and pronunciation to ensure a flawless execution of this centuries-old tradition. In a series of intensive rehearsals in Tercentenary Theatre during the week before Commencement, he also coaches the other two speakers, the Senior English orator (Anthony Hernandez) and the Graduate English orator, who this year was Jonathan Service, a PhD candidate in East Asian languages and civilizations.

After his speech, Service credited Tarrant not just for the solid preparation — thematic and rhetorical — but for keeping him on track throughout. At a key moment, when Service said he nearly blanked on an upcoming line, Tarrant mouthed the words from his nearby perch on stage. Service didn’t skip a beat, and the crowd was enthralled.

Keeping things on track is just what Tarrant did this spring, as the ongoing search for a permanent successor to Brandt proceeded under Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith. Tarrant oversaw the completion of a record admissions season and provided leadership on substantial issues like parental accommodations for graduate students, Internet access to dissertations, and student governance. He welcomed more than 400 alumni back to campus for Alumni Day and a chemistry department reunion. And he shook the hands of more than 500 GSAS students as they received diplomas on stage at Sanders Theatre.

“It has been a privilege and a joy to be a part of this community,” said Tarrant at an end-of-year GSAS staff meeting. The feeling is mutual.