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The wit and wisdom of Peter J. Gomes

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 2, 2011 03:01 PM

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Harvard pastor Peter J. Gomes, who died at age 68 on Monday from complications following a stroke, was a unique figure on the university's campus. He was, as the Globe put it in his obituary, "the only gay, black, Republican, Baptist preacher most people would ever meet."

Gomes was also a spokesman for tolerance — and, at times, an acerbic wordsmith, with a keen eye for the absurdities and contradictions of Harvard itself.

To celebrate Gomes's life, a group of his former students compiled a list of some of the more memorable quotes from a class that Gomes taught in 2009 on the history of the Harvard presidency:


  • "I won't embarrass any of you, but you all lied on your applications to Harvard. It's part of the circumstances of getting in."

  • "The modern telephone is a dangerous instrument."
  • "You think it's our aspiration in life to teach the likes of you. No. We teach the likes of you because you pay us and we need the money."
  • "There will be no quizzes. I will find other ways to stimulate you... and me."
  • "Harvard can be too cool, exceedingly indifferent. I could tell you that Jesus Christ himself will be at tea today and many of you would say 'I'll see if I can fit him in.' A pep rally at Harvard? The idea is a joke."
  • "And to this day, nothing new ever enters through the lecture hall walls of Princeton University."
  • "I've often been asked by [the Harvard University] Overseers, having taught this course, if I have any wisdom to give them. Of course I have wisdom — [sputters] — it is my job to give wisdom!"
  • "I don’t know how many people I meet who say, 'Uh I don’t know how what I’m going to do next year, I'll probably go to law school.' Oh God spare us!"
  • In regards to former Harvard president Nathan Pusey: "Where did he get such thin lips? From a lifetime of having to say, my name is 'Puuuuuusey.'"
  • "There are no bad questions. There are some very bad answers."
  • "I speak for short people."

Globe file photo: Peter J. Gomes in 2005.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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