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Comedian Amy Poehler—a former cast member of “Saturday Night Live” and the current star of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”—encouraged the members of the class of 2011 to always allow themselves to lean on others and be open to new ideas at Wednesday afternoon’s Class Day Exercises.
Ivy Orator Scott A. Levin-Gesundheit ’11 introduced Poehler as “the blonde Tina Fey,” which earned him a middle finger from Poehler.
In her speech, Poehler offered the senior class advice that she learned while studying improv in Chicago.
“Listen, say yes, live in the moment, make sure you play with people who have your back, make big choices early and often, and don’t start a scene with two people talking about jumping out of a plane—start it already having jumped out,” she said.
Held in Tercentenary Theatre the day before Commencement, Class Day is a College-wide ceremony that audience members said was a humorous yet meaningful afternoon.
The event also included speeches from the first and second Class Marshals, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, and four student speakers—two serious Harvard Orators and two humorous Ivy Orators.
In her fifteen minute speech, Poehler also spoke more seriously of the world events that have shaped the experiences of the graduating class, including 9/11.
“During these tough times we realized how wonderful it felt to be part of a group,” she said.
Poehler ended her speech with lyrics from Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” after reiterating her point about the importance of being open to others.
“Don’t treat your heart like an action figure, wrapped in plastic and never used,” she said.
Audience members said that Poehler and the four student speakers struck the right balance between humor and practical life advice.
“I didn’t expect her to be serious at all,” Katerina Mantzavinou ’11 said of Poehler’s speech.
In Cambridge to see his daughter Elizabeth graduate, John W. McLeod said that the student speeches were as insightful as Poehler’s.
A major theme of the afternoon was how to live up to—or, perhaps, embrace not living up to—the pressures of a Harvard degree.
Ivy Orator Molly O. Fitzpatrick ’11 traced the portrayal of Harvard students in movies ranging from “Legally Blonde” to “How High,” a comedy in which two rappers are admitted to Harvard after smoking magical marijuana.
“It’s a lot to live up to,” she said of the Harvard diploma. “I suspect I’m not alone in feeling suspiciously less erudite.”
But the ultimate message of Fitzpatrick’s speech echoed another theme of the afternoon, gratitude.
“The great thing about ‘How High,’ about all of these portrayals of Harvard and its students, is that they help us remember just how special our experiences have been,” Fitzpatrick said.
First Class Marshal Samuel B. Novey ’11 ended the ceremony with a challenge for the class of 2011, inviting them to speak out against the problems they see in the world.
He told the audience that the world is a better place because new generations consistently “ask why things have to be the way they are,” quoting his mother’s reflections after reading a draft of his sociology thesis this winter.
“If we’re lucky enough to return for our 70th reunion, we will have to be ready to answer to the graduating class of 2081,” Novey said.
—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at email@example.com.
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