Somethings Old, Somethings New
Beyond doubt, Harvard knows how to stage awesome graduations—not just the spectacle of the Commencement exercises in Tercentenary Theatre, but the class days, House and school celebrations, and more. But pulling off this morning’s iteration involved much more than dusting off a familiar playbook. •The morning ceremony now is Commencement day, with a program that includes an actual speaking part for the president (beyond the ritual texts by which he or she confers degrees on each cohort of learners), and the guest speaker’s address. •There being no other University business on the docket, Commencement winds up with “Fair Harvard,” the alma mater: no more stumbling to find the Latin text of the “Harvard Hymn” printed in the program. •The former “afternoon exercises,” when the Harvard Alumni Association conducted its annual meeting, and those who cared to reconvene in Tercentenary Theatre heard from the president and guest speaker, have been recast as a reunion-focused Harvard Alumni Day, this year on June 3, with its own guest speaker. But this year, thanks to the pandemic, a full-dress, deferred celebration of the classes of 2020 and 2021 falls between the two, on Sunday, May 29. This year, the oldest dog among American institutions of higher learning is proving that it can learn lots of new tricks. A stroll through Harvard Yard on Saturday morning, May 21, was rewarded with the remembered scene of Commencement preparations past. The formal proceedings got under way Tuesday morning with the Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises in Sanders Theatre—appropriately, the most purely academic and intellectual of the week’s events, featuring the brainiest of the candidates for their first degree. The Baccalaureate service, of course, has always had undergraduates at its core. The Baccalaureate program also subtly underscored the ascendancy of students in creating the week’s program, as well as being its beneficiaries. The tonal, melodious piece was a bit of a departure for a composer—and an incoming M. Recent graduate Carson Cooman ’04, composer in residence at Memorial Church, whose work was featured at President Lawrence S. Amid the understandable joy of students, families, and friends being together, the week brought reminders of the state of the world. The College Class Day speaker, recently elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07, J. On a celebratory note, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences conferred its Centennial Medal on four distinguished alumni: Neil Harris, Ph. The familiar queueing to gain entry into Tercentenary Theatre was once again under way from dawn’s early light, on a clement morning (52 degrees and overcast as the Yard gates opened: ideal for wearing at least a little something under a gown)—a welcome relief from unseasonable tropical heat and humidity during the prior weekend. The excessively numerous undergraduates got their dose of early-morning religion at a senior chapel service relocated from Memorial Church to the gigantic tent anchored on the Science Center Plaza. Jazz musician Veronica Leahy ’23 then took up the first of the augmented student “parts” in the proceedings, as a soprano saxophone soloist performing “The Star-Spangled Banner. The chaplain of the day, Judith Hanlon, gave the opening prayer. Then, following the familiar Presidential Fanfare by the Commencement Choir and University Band, President Bacow welcomed everyone, reprising the role as showrunner that he premiered online in 2020 and repeated last year (when he promised, “We shall overcome together”—queue today and this coming Sunday). I am not kidding—half of you almost had to sit on blankets today. I am telling you this because it is likely the last time you almost didn’t get a seat. With your degree in hand, you may often find yourself invited to sit and stay awhile, invited to share your thoughts and ideas, invited to participate, to contribute, to lead. And what are you to make of that—of the fact that people will make room for you, find a seat for you? Today, I want to challenge you—members of the Harvard Class of 2022—to save a seat for others, to make room for others, to ensure that the opportunities afforded by your education do not enrich your life alone. That is how you will sustain the pride and joy you feel today. Next up were the traditional student speaking parts (read more about each speaker here). Unlike many children who dream of becoming professional athletes, Benjamin Porteous ’22 dreamed of becoming a history scholar. Homeschooled throughout high school, he focused less on math and science and more on the languages he wanted to learn (and did): Latin, Greek, classical and modern Chinese, biblical Hebrew, Old English. By the time he arrived at the College, he had decided to concentrate in East Asian studies. Inspiration soon struck—at the beginning of his senior year, the Leverett House resident had visited Annenberg Hall to check in on John S. Porteous will pursue a master’s degree in East Asian studies at Harvard next year—on his way to an eventual Ph. Read the text of his address, with an English translation, here. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Noah Harris ’22 arrived at Harvard looking to serve others. A resident of Dunster House, Harris took steps to achieve his own long-time goal of becoming an attorney, joining the Black Pre-Law Association and declaring a concentration in government. In his address, Harris—who will attend the Law School after two years of nonprofit or government work—contemplated Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Caged Bird.
Bringing the theme to the modern day, he said, the pandemic has caged all of society: Quarantine, masking, vaccines, and contact tracing have defined the last two years of our lives. He encouraged his fellow Harvard graduates to see themselves in those who are caged and work to help them. [W]e must be willing to be proximate enough to hear the tune of their song. In her address (another hunch followed), Sanwald reflected on the “Great Pause” caused by the pandemic. As society returns to some semblance of normalcy, Sanwald said, “We are all tasked now with mending ourselves together, so that we can stitch a world for future generations. After all that’s been sacrificed, I refuse to waste my vision endlessly thumbing a scroll of screen. “May this great vulnerability turn us into great visionaries,” she concluded. The choir then sang the next anthem, a socko call-and-response rendition of “Lead with Love,” by Melanie DeMore, featuring soloist Theodore (Teddy) Hickman-Maynard ’00, an undergraduate member of the Kuumba singers who recently became associate dean for ministry studies and lecturer on ministry—a title that hardly gets at his qualities as “an absolutely phenomenal singer,” in Andrew Clark’s admiring appraisal. With that elevated tone still echoing, one hoped, the graduate and professional school candidates’ degrees were then on tap, featuring, in order, the Dental School, Medical School (including various master’s degrees in bioethics, biomedical informatics, healthcare quality and safety, and clinical service operations), Divinity School (including the first cohort of master’s in religion and public life graduates), Law School, Business School, Graduate School of Design, School of Public Health, Graduate School of Education, and Kennedy School. The next anthem, “Veritas: A Celebration of the Centuries,” by the multitalented engineering sciences/physics/law student and composer Chung Hon Michael Cheng A. Who better to lift off than the undergraduates, and they were properly primed for their moment, issuing the obligatory throaty roar of pride, relief, and sheer energetic youthfulness. The next musical interlude, “Dive,” is a song from a musical in progress, “Shimcheong: A Folktale,” by composer and lyricist Julia Riew ’22, who was accompanied by singers Natalie Choo ’22 and Sydney Penny ’22, cellist Ethan Cobb ’22, and violinists Anna Gong ’23 and William Yao ’22. If the cohort of graduates was swollen, the class of 2022 honorands (described in detail here) was unusually compact. Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, microbiologist, general director of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Institut National pour la Recherche Biomédicale and president of the newly formed Congolese Academy of Science, now recognized as discoverer of the Ebola virus and of pioneering therapies to treat it (and who was, uniquely and instructively, masked), Doctor of Science: Formidable in fighting a fearsome virus,resolute in pursuit of treatments and cures;from rainforests to research labs, in clinics and councils,his mind, heart, and voice have saved precious lives. Fabled founding mother of Latina studies,weaving spirit threads of memory into tapestries of tenacity;she draws stories of food workers, field hands, and flappersfrom out of the shadows and into the light. Ethicist, classicist, humanist;prolific, polymathic, profound;a worldly-wise scholar of capacious capabilitieswho illuminates our thinking on how one should live. William Julius Wilson, Geyser University Professor emeritus, a sociologist who has explored the intersection of race and poverty, transforming public policy in the wake of such powerful books as The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions (1978), The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987), and When Work Disappears: The World of The New Urban Poor (1996), about whom Garber said, “He has championed the power of education to create opportunity—and the power of jobs to invigorate communities. Casting light on the plight of the truly disadvantaged,discerning what happens when work disappears,a deep and dauntless scholar whose ideas enlighten policy,envisaging a bridge over the racial divide. Iconic champion of women’s rights,serial entrepreneur of social change,whose ardent organizing and potent prosehave engendered historic strides toward equality for all. José Andrés, chef, restaurateur, food entrepreneur, and founder of World Central Kitchen, which provides humanitarian relief during natural and manmade disasters, including the current invasion of Ukraine, Doctor of Humane Letters: A Michelin man who never tires;a Picasso of paella whose tapas are tops;with plates of hope for people in needhe taps food’s power to serve the world. The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand and the guest speaker, who appeared animated and excited on stage, and made a splendid sartorial statement with a Māori wrap around her gown. Her leadership style sends a powerful message:it’s key we be both strong and kind; inclusive and empathic, hopeful and pragmatic,she guides a proud nation with new zeal and vision. After a greeting in Te Reo Māori, an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand, Ardern said: It is a privilege to be here, and I thank you for the honour. There are some moments in life that make the world feel small and connected. I am used to walking into a room in New Zealand and knowing at least someone. And while this moment feels incredibly daunting to me right now, I do take comfort knowing there are approximately 30 New Zealanders studying here, and statistically at least one of them will be my cousin. She then made a powerful connection to Harvard, to another leader, and to her theme of the day, the frailty of democracy: In June 1989 the Prime Minister of Pakistan stood on this spot and delivered the commencement address titled, “Democratic nations must unite. She spoke about her journey, the importance of citizenry, representative government, human rights, and democracy. There will be opinions and differing perspectives written about all of us as political leaders. The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me. My daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on the 21st of June 2018. The path she carved as a woman feels as relevant today as it was decades ago, and so too is the message she shared here.
Ardern recalled Bhutto’s warning, “We must realise that democracy… can be fragile. This imperfect but precious way that we organise ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile. For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration. It ignores the fact that the foundation of a strong democracy includes trust in institutions, experts and government— and that this can be built up over decades but torn down in mere years. It ignores that a strong democracy relies on debate and dialogue, and that even the oldest regimes can seek to control these forums, and the youngest can seek to liberate them. It ignores what happens, when regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested—when facts are turned into fiction, and fiction turned into fact, you stop debating ideas and you start debating conspiracy. It ignores the reality of what we are now being confronted by every single day. New Zealand’s parliamentary representative democracy, she said, has during the past decade “passed laws that include everything from the introduction of gay marriage and the banning of conversion therapy, right through to embedding a 1. Admitting to “some trepidation entering a discussion on how we strengthen our democracies when this issue is so easily and wrongly distorted into being opposed to free speech,” Ardern nonetheless proceeded, because “that fear is overshadowed by a greater fear of what will happen to our democracies, if we don’t act to firm up their foundations”—if, in a word, democracies lose the ability to “argue our corners, yes with the passion and fire that conviction brings, but without the vitriol, hate and violence. Without attempting to determine the causes of division today, Ardern said, she wished to proceed to solutions. Today, she said, social media interactions have made those differences far sharper and harder to bridge: [A]s the opportunities to connect expanded, humans did what we have always done. We logged on in our billions, forming tribes and sub tribes. We found a place to experience new ways of thinking and to celebrate our difference. But increasingly, we use it to do neither of those things. I doubt anyone has ever created a group titled “political views I disagree with, but choose to enter into respectful dialogue with to better understand alternative perspectives. As humans, we are naturally predisposed to reinforce our own views, to gather with people like us and avoid the dreaded sense of cognitive dissonance. Recalling the March 15, 2019, assault on mosques in Christchurch, when 51 people were killed in a terrorist attack, she said, “The entire brutal act was live-streamed on social media. The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognise their power and to act on it. That means recognising the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in. It means, that there is a pressing and urgent need for responsible algorithm development and deployment. We have the forums for online providers and social media companies to work on these issues alongside civil society and governments. Let’s start with transparency in how algorithmic processes work and the outcomes they deliver. She also reminded individuals of their responsibilities: “Our willingness to recognise our own preconceived ideas. Given the changes in media, writ large, Ardern cautioned, “[W]e’re not even talking about where or how we access information to inform debate, but whether you can call it information at all. Addressing the graduates, she said, “You are, and will always be, surrounded by bias. In that light, an individual could determine “How you choose to engage with information, deal with conflict, or confront debate, how you choose to address being baited, or hated—it all matters. [D]on’t overlook the impact of simple steps that are right in front of us. To make a choice to treat difference with empathy and kindness Those values that exist in the space between difference and division. We are the richer for our difference, and poorer for our division. After all, there are some things in life that make the world feel small and connected, let kindness be one of them. Ardern’s address was greated with frequent applause, and a sustained ovation at its conclusion. What remained, after the prime minister’s 26-minute address, but the collective chorus of “Fair Harvard,” the new closing tune, and the benediction by Matthew I. Thus blessed, and with ears shattered anew by the sheriff, the meeting adjourned after two and a half hours to the ringing of bells and the playing of the University Band, and the new graduates and their families headed off to their Houses and schools for refreshment and the actual receipt of their diplomas, under a blue and beautiful sky. And for your convenience, all our Commencement 2022 coverage is gathered here.
Read full article at Harvard Magazine