Sandberg Urges Graduates To Open Themselves to Criticism, Seek Truth

Class Day 2014 Speaker
Sheryl K. Sandberg ’91, the chief operating officer of Facebook, discusses her time at Harvard as an undergraduate and gender inequality in the workplace as the 2014 College Class Day speaker.

The Harvard College Class of 2014 gathered at Wednesday’s Class Day Exercises in Tercentenary Theater to listen as Sheryl K. Sandberg ’91 called upon them to be open to criticism and “see the truth and speak the truth” about discrimination in society today.

In her address, SandbergCOO of Facebook, former vice president for global online sales and operations for Google, and most recently, author of the acclaimed book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”drew upon her time as a student at the College and her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated workplace.

“The world was not equal then, and it is not equal now,” Sandberg said about the state of gender equality during her time as an undergraduate and in contemporary society.


She recalled being invited to speak at an all-male club in California and declining the offer on the grounds that she would not speak in front of any group that would not have her as a member. After she encouraged the club to reconsider their males-only policy, she remembered, club members had replied that these policies would change “eventually.”

“Our expectations are too low. Eventually needs to become immediately,” Sandberg said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Despite the overcast weather, many College seniors, along with their friends and relatives, packed into Tercentenary Theater for the ceremony, which kicked off with remarks from the first Class Marshal, Jennifer Q. Zhu ’14. Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister took the podium after Zhu.

Reflecting on his short tenure as dean of the College, Pfister welcomed the seniors into his “extended classroom,” detailing the history of the trees that once thrived in the Yard and how, like the Yard itself, seniors too had changed over their four years at Harvard.

Quoting J. R. R. Tolkien’s poem “All that is Gold Does Not Glitter,” Pfister asked students to “find  the gold that does not glitter” and wander but “always come home” in their post-Harvard careers.

During the ceremony, two students, Majahonkhe M. Shabangu ’14 and Sarah A. Rosenkrantz ’14 were awarded Richard Glover and Henry Russell Ames Memorial prizes for their excellence in leadership and character.

Senior gift committee co-chair Arleen Y.Q. Chien ’14 announced that 78 percent of graduating seniors participated in Senior Gift, the fifth highest percentage in the College’s history.

In addition to Sandberg and Pfister, four undergraduates also spoke during the exercises, reflecting on success at Harvard and how they might take their experiences and transmit them into the future.

Adam J. Conner ’14, a former Crimson business editor, shared personal and humorous anecdotes about how his ultimately unfulfilled aspirations to join social organizations, maintain a high GPA, and score a prestigious job out of college may appear to be obvious failures but do not necessarily indicate that he had “failed Harvard.”

He cautioned the assembled crowd of the dangers of dwelling on their failures, and instead implored them to “start focusing on success.”