Pontiac homecoming: Harvard president returns to his roots with a message of perseverance, inspiration


Harvard President Lawrence Bacow (center) posed for a photo with (left to right) his wife, Adele Bacow; Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman; retired Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Fred Mester; and Pontiac Schools Superintendent Kelley Williams.

Attorney George Googasian, past president of the State Bar of Michigan, was not surprised to learn that Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow was returning home, especially when he found out he was Mitchell Bacow's son. As a young attorney in Pontiac, Googasian came to know the Harvard president's father.

"I learned that Mitch was a refugee and a Holocaust survivor, so I shared with him that my mother was a refugee and survivor of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. That common history gave us a special bond that few were aware of," said Googasian.

"The first time I had a case with him, I learned Mitch Bacow was smart, ethical, and a true professional. As an opponent in a case, he always knew the law of the case, the laws of evidence, and that I could trust and rely on his word. His example helped me understand how an honest, ethical attorney should conduct himself or herself. I was mentored by his example. I thank him for that and have tried to live up to his example. So, you can understand that I was very pleased to know of his son's success."

Lawrence Bacow is not just the son of Mitchell and Ruth, but also Pontiac's native son. Bacow grew up in Pontiac and the ideas of faith and strength were ingrained in him as a child and carried him to the highest echelons of academia. The values instilled in Bacow from his parents, the Boy Scouts of America, and Zeta Beta Tau centered on the same principles of hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

These values emanate throughout Pontiac, which has long been at the heart of Oakland County. Many county residents have roots in Pontiac, even if it was only that their grandparents lived there and left long ago. Far more than any other community in the county, Pontiac is a subject of curiosity and concern for all the right reasons.

Pontiac has often been called the nation's engine a manufacturing hub for all of the 20th century and an emerging tech hub now in the 21st century. If Pontiac is the nation's engine, then perseverance is the fuel that powers that engine, and President Bacow is a shining example of what perseverance and drive can accomplish.

Bacow recently returned home to Pontiac for the first time in years with his wife Adele, whom he met while a first year student at Harvard Law. One highlight of the visit was a stop at Pontiac's International Technology Academy the Pontiac School District's flagship K-12 school to see students work and talk about higher education.

Bacow saw a return to Pontiac as an opportunity, not for nostalgia, but to contribute to the resurgence of his home town and inspire young people from the inner city to reach their full potential. While addressing hundreds of Pontiac students during his visit, Bacow emphasized the "transformative power of higher education."

"It is truly inspirational when a native child of Pontiac personifies the values instilled by the city and can return home to motivate the next generation of leaders," said Dr. Deirdre Waterman, mayor of Pontiac. "A visit like his becomes unforgettable and inspires hope. President Bacow is an essential, breathing example of what living out Pontiac values can help you achieve."

Throughout the years, Bacow has kept abreast of the happenings of Pontiac. In true Pontiac fashion, the city has persevered and recovered from almost a decade of distress and emergency management to realize recent economic stability and success.

It is a city experiencing an economic reawakening after years of decline and now seemingly on the path of promise and progress. Pontiac leaders have been keen on achieving goals such as workforce education and development and improved quality of life in the city as outlined in the federally funded economic plan, "Pontiac Moving Forward: An Economic Recovery Strategy." Some have even gone so far as to coin Pontiac as the "Growing Comeback City."

As Pontiac transforms into a tech corridor within the Midwest, the jobs of the future will require a highly educated and innovative workforce. The message that Bacow delivered was indeed as much personal as regional education is and will continue to be the vehicle that transforms the individual, as well as the city and region. This transformation and need for a skilled labor force has been made evident by the relocation of Shore Mortgage, a financial tech company and the largest wholesale mortgage lender in the nation, and Williams International, a leading aerospace engineering company to Pontiac both bringing thousands of jobs to the city.

One group assisting to develop young talent and push the narrative of the importance of higher education is the Pontiac Alumni Foundation. The nonprofit was founded in 1998 by retired Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Fred Mester and three attorneys originating from Pontiac Bill Hampton, Ayanna Hatchett, and George Googasian.

Since its founding, the Pontiac Alumni Foundation has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships. This year alone, the foundation is awarding Pontiac School District graduates with $90,000 in scholarships. Fifteen students will receive $6,000 scholarships to be used during their first two years of college. By awarding these scholarships, Pontiac student are encouraged to complete their education and dream big.

One Pontiac Technology Academy student, Dakota Passage, has done just that and has been admitted to Harvard for this fall's freshman class. Passage, who was in attendance during Bacow's visit, took his message to heart.

"I think a lot of people want to go to Harvard and just to hear the president come here and (to know that) he's a local," Passage stated to WXYZ 7 Action News immediately after hearing Bacow speak. "It really takes away that veil to where it's this very idealistic thing that probably won't happen. It makes it a realistic goal that could actually happen."

Bacow left Pontiac with a positive message: "Don't let anyone tell you, you can't pursue your dreams," Bacow said. "You can do anything you want to do and if anyone tells you that you can't, just tell them the president of Harvard told you otherwise."

Published: Wed, May 01, 2019