From humble beginnings as an immigrant to America, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao became the matriarch of a family of six daughters, four of whom attended Harvard Business School.
This week, the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center became the first building named after a woman at the venerable business school.
“My mother believed in the transformational power of education and being a very modest person, she would have been humbled to have this building bear her name,” former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said at a dedication ceremony on June 6. “It will be a living memorial to her values and her belief that the world will be a better place when people can come together in a meaningful exchange of knowledge and ideas.”
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In her remarks, she told the story of how her parents left China when they were very young during a tumultuous time in Chinese history.
“The hardships they encountered instilled in them a life-long commitment to build bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds and cultures,” Chao said. “When they relocated again to start anew in America, a key element that helped them not only survive but thrive was their education. That’s why they have devoted so much of their philanthropy to helping others access education. And that’s why the concept of a place of learning at Harvard for leaders from all over the world resonated with my father."
"She believed that men and women should be treated equally, and she and my father made sure her six daughters were equipped with the tools they needed to realize their dreams."
Elaine Chao, who was labor secretary during the Bush administration, said her mother came from a distinguished family in Anhui province who believed in educating their daughters, and that her mother’s beliefs continue to guide the family.
“She believed that men and women should be treated equally, and she and my father made sure her six daughters were equipped with the tools they needed to realize their dreams,” Chao said. “My mother was the constant north star of our family, holding us together during years of separation from our father when he came to this country to build a better life for our family. And when we finally joined him in America, she was the strong foundation that gave us the confidence and courage to advance in this new country."
The Chao family and family foundation gave $40 million to Harvard in 2012 to construct the building. It also funded a scholarship program for the business students of Chinese descent.
The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center is a 90,000-square-foot, four-story structure that will be the gateway to the University’s Executive Education Program. The building anchors the Executive Education campus and acts as the greeting and reception center. It also has an open theater-style forum, classrooms, and comes complete with an elevated outdoor terrace.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning TV journalist, and former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” His book, “Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective” won an American Book Award. His columns on Asian America have been syndicated nationally, and can be seen on the the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog (http://www.aaldef.org/blog). His current project is writing and performing the “Amok Monologues,” a series of journalistic theater pieces. He lives in California.