Thank you Mayor Menino, President Faust, Dean Nohria and Monica, Dean McArthur, Dean Light, Dick and Meredith Spangler, friends, members of the Harvard University and Harvard Business School community:
On behalf of my father, Dr. James S. C. Chao, sisters, May Chao, Christine Chao, Grace Chao and Angela Chao, brothers-in-law, Jeffrey Hwang, Jos Shaver, Gordon Hartogensis and their families, my husband, Leader Mitch McConnell, my Aunt Chang, Uncle James, Aunt Bess and my cousin, June Chu – we want to thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today as Harvard announces two special gifts by my father and the family to memorialize the life and legacy of my late beloved mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.
If I may, I’d like to share with you a bit of the journey that brought my parents to America and my family to Harvard this afternoon. My parents grew up in one of the most tumultuous periods in the 20th century where they saw the land of their birth invaded and devastated by decades of wars. They saw no future where they were. So, they forged a new future for themselves and their children.
My mother came from a distinguished family in Anhui province, China that believed in the value of education regardless of gender. So, she was able to attend Ming De Christian Middle School for Girls in Nanjing. The Sino–Japanese War, World War II and China’s Civil War drove her family from their ancestral home in search of safety and security. During one of these relocations, she met her future husband while she was attending his alma mater, #1 Jiading County High School, in a suburb of Shanghai. Their acquaintance was brief as her family soon relocated to Taiwan.
My father was born in a small farming village in Shanghai, China. His father was a respected school teacher so his parents always emphasized the importance of education. My father won scholarships that enabled him to attend college in pursuit of a maritime career. In 1949, my father boarded a ship to finish his last requirement for graduation – a seagoing apprenticeship. His father came all the way from the countryside to send his only child off for what was to be a short voyage. Several days later, Shanghai fell. All the ports were blockaded. He never saw his father again. His ship set sail for Taiwan where my father began to search for my mother.
Nearly two years later, he found her and they started a new life together. He quickly rose to become one of the youngest ship captains of that time at the age of 29. He still pursued higher education and scored #1 in the National Examination shattering all previous records. Because of this achievement, he was able to go abroad to study. But this opportunity meant leaving his seven month pregnant wife and two young daughters behind. Even though she didn’t know how long the family would be apart, my mother’s steadfast encouragement was the main factor in his decision to go to America.
After three long years of separation, we were reunited in America. The initial years in this country were very difficult. Adjusting to a new life in a new country with a different language and culture was not easy. But, through it all, my mother’s quiet determination, resilience, hope and optimism guided and strengthened my father and our family. A lifelong advocate of the importance of education, she herself fulfilled a lifelong goal interrupted by the wars, when at the age of 53, she graduated with honors with a Master’s degree in Asian literature and history.
As you may know, my mother returned to the Lord on August 2, 2007, after a valiant seven–year battle with lymphoma.
My parents’ story is one of enduring love, family, faith, contribution to society and the power of education. Both my parents strove to lead values-laden lives exemplifying diligence, determination, and courage in the face of great adversity.
In an era of internationalization, the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center will be a welcoming gateway to the tens of thousands of executive education attendees from all over the world and a vibrant convening site with MBA and DBA students. Our aspiration for the Chao Fellowships is to enable the broadest range of promising, outstanding students to access the financial means to be able to attend Harvard Business School.
My father never expected nor sought financial goals. His guiding philosophy has always been to contribute himself to society. My mother was a full partner in this goal. Her spirit of altruism, generosity toward others, and contribution to society are values that we hope one of the best universities in the world will instill in some of the brightest students in the world – to give themselves in service to others, as leaders of principle and conscience.
My father is humbled to make these two gifts to Harvard University during its 375th anniversary year to commemorate the 50th year of the admission of women to Harvard Business School in loving tribute to the life and legacy of my mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.
Thank you for sharing this special day with us.