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As birthday parties go, this one was special. The faculty canceled classes, and the administrative staff collectively stepped away from their desks to join in daylong festivities marking the School’s 100th birthday on April 8. A big-top-style tent erected over the Shad Hall tennis courts served as the opening and closing venue – with morning remarks by Dean Jay Light and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, and a late-afternoon birthday party. In between came a campus-wide case discussion on the future of HBS and presentations by high-profile guest speakers. But for me, the highlight of the day came at lunch with the screening of a ten-minute film tribute — The Sum of Our Own Greatness — to the small army of service workers who keep the campus humming 24/7, 365 days a year.

The film presented a parade of still photos of HBS people at work: electricians and carpenters, guards, landscapers, kitchen staff, mail room workers, maintenance crew, and more. The parade paused periodically to play a brief film clip of a staff member commenting about work at HBS. At the end, the applause went beyond the polite but reserved reception typical for after-lunch presentations. The 2,000 or so students, faculty, and staff gathered in Murr Center gave the film an enthusiastic reception that bespoke a genuine respect for a large and vital part of the HBS community that seldom draws public recognition.

While many people were involved, most of the work was done by the HBS Educational Technology Group: Tom Ryder, David Habeeb, and Ruth Page. Inspiration for the title came from a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “We cannot do great deeds as a nation unless we are willing to do the small things that make up the sum of greatness.” For Ryder, who confesses that the film turned into a labor of love, “the work that these people do adds up to the sum of HBS’s greatness.” “We talk a lot about how the school is a transformational experience for students, “ he adds. “But it’s also transformational for the men and women who work here in service jobs. They are touched by its mission, and they enable that mission to be achieved.”

Ryder hopes to make the film available on the Web, but that requires working out issues involving copyrights for music used on the soundtrack. For more Centennial coverage, check the special issue of The Harbus, with interviews of faculty, alumni, and students.

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