CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--An academic career that started with orange and white will graduate to Harvard crimson Thursday at the 346th commencement of the United States' oldest university.
Participating in this year's bagpipe-led procession from Harvard Yard into Tercentenary Theatre will be Texan and Bearkat Karen Kerr-Bustamante, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Sam Houston State University.
Kerr-Bustamante will receive her doctor of law degree, with honors. She will exit the theater to the sound of a 15-minute concert of pealing bells throughout the campus and the city, and return in the afternoon for a commencement speech by U. S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
Throughout the pomp and circumstance, Kerr-Bustamante said this week, she will be thinking of her family and friends in Texas--especially her uncle Jack Kerr of Huntsville, a member of the SHSU English faculty, and faculty members like philosophy Professor Frank Fair.
She calls Kerr "the greatest influence in my life" and Fair "an incredible professor."
"I had him for logic, and learned some skills there that I definitely applied up here."
She also praised James Olson, Gary Bell, and Lee Olm of history and Ruth Bryant and Douglas Krienke of English. Olm is retired and Bell is now at Texas Tech.
"They all prepared me for a level of excellence that served me well up here," she said, "and were so supportive."
Kerr-Bustamante has served in the Peace Corps in the West Indies, taught in Venezuela, and taught English and coached soccer in La Porte public schools. She and her 14-year-old son, Francisco, will live in the Houston area where she will work as a corporate lawyer for the firm of Bracewell & Patterson.
She is a focused person, who runs or bikes every day. One of her favorite rides is a 40-mile round trip to Walden Pond. She has always found time to study.
She came to Sam Houston State from New Mexico State University and Tyler Junior College with nothing but As on her transcript. She earned her bachelor of arts degree with a major in humanities in August, 1981. Again, nothing but As.
While she is proud of Texas, and stood up to famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz in one of her Harvard classes after he continuously put down Texas, she is no Southern belle. She earned her master of arts in history in 1983, this time with one B--in History of the Ante-Bellum South and Civil War.
She said Dershowitz, who is an "incredible teacher," poked fun at Texas throughout the semester. In the final week he illustrated the point that for self defense to be used successfully against a murder charge, it must be an appropriate action.
"If I walk up to you and slap you in the face and you shoot me, that is not an appropriate self-defense," he told the class. Then added, "Of course I'm talking about Massachusetts. In Texas you could probably get away with it."
After many of her 130 classmates had asked her throughout the semester when she was going to stand up for her state, it was the quip that broke the Texan's silence.
"Sir, I'd like to clarify a bit of Texas law," Kerr-Bustamante said in her best Texas drawl. "In Texas we don't have to wait for the slap."
Kerr-Bustamante praised Harvard for giving her "the opportunity to become re-familiar with my own integrity." Her classmates came from throughout the world, she said--"princes, future presidents and political leaders, diplomats."
She was greatly impressed by Texan Elizabeth Warren, who in her second year on the Harvard faculty won the university's outstanding teaching award.
With six presidents already to its credit--including two named Adams, two named Roosevelt, a Rutherford Hayes and a John Kennedy--Harvard has been a model of excellence. On the other hand, students like Kerr-Bustamante prove that quality is not exclusive to institutions that are old, Eastern, or wealthy.
And for every successful politician like Franklin Roosevelt, who the university admits was forever galled by his failure to obtain membership in the Porcellian (Pig) club, there were scores of would-be politicians like Lothrop Withington Jr.
Withington, in 1939, swallowed a goldfish as part of a media event for his campaign for the presidency of the Harvard freshman class. Goldfish swallowing spread throughout the nation, but Withington lost the election.