Soledad O' Brien Addresses Harvard College Seniors

Class Day 2013
Robert F Worley

Soledad M. O’ Brien ’88-’00 encouraged thousands of students, parents, and alumni gathered in Tercentenary Theatre for Senior Class Day Exercises Wednesday to break down barriers and “seek out goodness in others.”

“Lean in to use your voice, lean in to make change where it needs to be made, and lean in to invest your heart and your soul in ideas and people,” she said, adapting the “lean in” phrase coined by Sheryl K. Sandberg ’91 in her book by that name.

In her address, O’Brien—a former CNN anchor—drew upon her experiences, especially those from her time as a journalist.

“I have seen in my career, whether I’m covering tsunamis in Asia or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or earthquakes in Haiti, is that pretty much, everybody wants the same things,” O’Brien said. “You need to break through walls that you think exist between people who don’t look like you and don’t act like you because those walls don’t have to exist.”

In a deeply personal part of the speech, she shared stories of her parents’ experiences as an interracial couple in Maryland when such marriages were illegal.

Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, in her first public speech since the official announcement that she will step down as Dean, told students to use the skills they learned from their time at Harvard to better others around the globe.

“We’re bound to use the knowledge we gained at Harvard to serve not only ourselves but our kind,” Hammonds said. “You now have the power of a Harvard degree to help you do what you want to do, you can use it to benefit yourselves, your families, and your friends. But there are also things that you can do to improve the situation for humanity at large.”

Following Hammonds’s speech, four students selected by the Senior Class Committee addressed their fellow graduates.

Damilare K. Sonoiki ’13, the male Harvard Orator, recalled the beginning of his time at Harvard when he continually promised himself that he would “eventually” go listen to a sermon given by the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes, only to be thwarted by “problem sets, due dates, and meetings.” One day he woke up to an email from University President Drew G. Faust saying that Gomes had passed away.

“We should perhaps limit our eventuallys,” said Sonoiki, who is an inactive Crimson news editor. “I hope that we might turn our somedays into todays and our eventuallys into nows.”

Julie M. Zauzmer ’13, a former Crimson managing editor, delivered the other Harvard Oration.

“Here’s what the world needs: people who know how to arrive at a place that’s huge and complicated and scary—a place like Harvard—and then make it their own, and that means every single one of us,” Zauzmer said at the conclusion of her oration.

The Ivy Orators, whose addresses are typically more lighthearted in tone, poked fun at Harvard and student life.

“Back when I was 18, I thought I was going to run into Drew Gilpin Faust on the streets, at least one time, but that did not happen,” said Blythe B. Roberson ’13, the female Ivy orator.

“Drew, where are you? Is she—is she here today?” Roberson continued, scouring the audience with binoculars she brought with her to the podium.

Philip M. Gillen ’13, the other Ivy orator, took a more extreme approach, calling on the Class of 2013 to “burn this University to the ground.”

“I need you to stop Snachatting pictures of administrators with grainy, drawn-on handlebar mustaches, stand up, and treat this school the way you treat your liver during Harvard-Yale,” Gillen shouted, calling his fellow classmates to arms.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at stevenlee@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

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