Chao gift to Harvard begins to take shape

Updated: 2015-04-27 11:21

By Dong Leshuo in Boston(China Daily USA)

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The hallowed grounds of Harvard have experienced an event that's ground-breaking in more ways than one.

A "Topping Off" ceremony was held at the construction site of the new Ruth Mulan Chu Chao executive education facility at Harvard Business School on April 24.

The Chao Center, a 90,000-square-foot, four-story structure that will house classrooms, meeting rooms, offices and dining facilities is the result of a $40 million gift from the Dr James Si-Cheng Chao and Family Foundation.

The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center will be the first building named after a woman on the Harvard campus and the first building named after an American of Chinese decent, according to Elaine Chao, the eldest of six daughters of the Chao family and a former US Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush.

"My father wanted to pay tribute to my mother's extraordinary life and legacy and hopes it will serve as an inspiration for future leaders to build a better world," said she said.

The 'Topping Off' ceremony is a long-standing tradition in construction derived from an ancient Scandinavian builders rite held when the highest beam is placed atop a structure during construction.

The Chao family, members of the Harvard Business School community and construction workers, signed the beam and then watched as it was raised into place.

"I feel blessed that the Harvard Business School campus will commemorate the success story of this family, the love of Dr Chao and his daughters for Mrs Chao, their truly incredible journey from their home country to the United States, and all they have done for both countries," said by Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School.

"The Chao Center will symbolize this bridging of family and bridging of cultures," Nohria said.

The building serves as the gateway to Harvard Business School for the more than 10,000 executives from around the world who attend programs on campus each year.

"It is our hope that the center will be an inspirational focal point to bring emerging leaders together, to develop themselves through greater understanding of the world around us, so they can create greater opportunity and improve the quality of life of others," Elaine Chao said.

The Chao Center, designed by architectural firm Goody Clancy, is scheduled to be completed on April 22, 2016 and open in June 2016.

"The front will be in the Georgian style, which evokes an Old World order, while the back will be soaring glass, a window on the modern world and all its rapid changes," Elaine Chao said.

"This duality reflects the fact that during their life-long journey together, my parents never wavered in their strong belief that education was key to bridging the gap between the old world and the new, and to building a better life," Elaine Chao said.

"It is a symbol of a bridge between East and West," said by Angela Chao, the youngest daughter of the family and deputy chairman of Foremost Group, an international shipping company founded by her father.

As part of the gift, the Chao family has also endowed the Ruth Mulan Chu and James S. C. Chao Family Fellowship Fund for outstanding students in need.

The fellowships are targeted for students of Chinese heritage and sponsor four to six students a year to attend Harvard Business School.

"This shows my father's concern and interest in fostering young leaders, especially Asian-American leaders for our country," Elaine Chao told China Daily.

The Chao family's American story began in 1964 when Dr. James S. C. Chao founded Foremost Group, a shipping, trading and finance enterprise based in New York where he remains chairman to this day.

Mrs Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, a scholar of Asian history and literature and generous philanthropist who died in 2007, was the mother of six daughters who went on to notable careers. Four of the daughters went to Harvard.

"This center is not only an enduring monument to our parents' inspiring life and love, but reflects their determination to empower others through the gift of education," Elaine Chao said.

 Chao gift to Harvard begins to take shape

Members of the Chao family signing the beam at the topping-off ceremony of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center at Harvard Business School in Boston on April 24. From left: Angela Chao, Dr James S. C. Chao, former secretary of labor Elaine L. Chao, May Chao and Jessica Chao Hwang. Dong Leshuo / China Daily

(China Daily USA 04/27/2015 page2)