Deputy Dean, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence, Harvard Law School
Occasions such as these often invite the question: “Where do I begin?” My difficulty is the opposite. When it comes to Bill Alford, where does one stop?
In law, in history, and in world affairs, Bill is supremely learned. And unlike those of us who tend to study things in plain sight, he has investigated and shed light on topics that powerful people prefer to keep hidden. Yet, for Bill, worldliness has never meant weariness. True to the man, his work features a disarming and uplifting combination of humility, humanity, and utter decency.
Others are better positioned to capture Bill’s personal, institutional and scholarly accomplishments and legacy. I will therefore limit myself to a brief acknowledgment and observation.
It is easy to assume that established institutions such as Harvard Law School and the Special Olympics are destined to keep on keeping on, as if by automatic pilot. In fact, they survive and thrive only because of the abilities and efforts—often uncredited—of individuals. From personal experience, I know that Bill is one of these people. At a thousand different moments, Bill’s dedication, wisdom, honesty, discretion, and sense of fair play have mattered to the maintenance and growth of Harvard Law School and Harvard University. Credit should be given where credit is due. Thank you, Bill.
Now the observation. In philosophical circles, there is a longstanding debate over the moral relevance of proximity. Do we owe more to those nearest to us—family, friends, colleagues, neighbors? Or should we focus on the good we can do for people, whoever and wherever they are? Quietly, unassumingly, simply by doing what he does and being who he is, Bill has demonstrated the falsity of this supposed choice. He is devoted to his family, to his students, to his colleagues, to the graduate program, to international legal studies, and to the law. He is no less devoted to humanity, and particularly to the world of persons who for too long have been undervalued and mistreated because of their disabilities. His scholarship is likewise local and universal—about particular nations and their problems and about transcendent human rights. I am beyond grateful that I can count Bill as a colleague and friend. He will always serve for me as a constant reminder of how to do right by others, near and far.