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Actress Rashida L. Jones ’97, best known for her roles in TV sitcoms “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” mixed lighthearted memories of her time at Harvard with a call for political action in her speech at the Class of 2016’s Class Day Exercises.
Jones noted she is the first “second-generation” Class Day speaker, after her father, legendary record producer Quincy Jones, who spoke at her own Class Day in 1997. She began her speech by recounting memories from college she said have lasted a lifetime, from napping backstage in Sanders Theater as a member of a capella group the Opportunes, to napping in Lamont library.
“Hooking up with someone in Kirkland so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way back to Currier, hooking up with someone in Dunster A entry so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way back to Dunster C entry,” she continued. “In short, I really took advantage of the best Harvard had to offer.”
Her speech took on a more serious tone as she gave advice to the graduating class. She encouraged changing certain historical precedents at Harvard, specifically calling on the Hasty Pudding Theatricals—which has an all-male theater cast—to include women. In September, a group of women auditioned for the annual production in protest, although the theater organization decided to remain all-male. Jones was a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals while at Harvard.
Jones also focused on national issues. She said that although celebrities are often told to “shut up” about politics, she believes there is too much at stake in the current election cycle for her to stay silent.
“Young unarmed black men are being killed in record numbers. States are passing laws that are systematically stripping away reproductive rights. A presidential candidate is encouraging his supporters to be violent and racist,” she said. “While we’re distracted with pretty Instagram shots of coffee and celebrity breakups, our freedoms are at risk of slipping away.”
Before Jones took the stage, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana also called for changing certain traditions as Harvard moves into the future. Earlier this month, Khurana recommended sweeping penalties on members of single-gender social organizations that will prevent future members from leading campus organizations and receiving College endorsement on top fellowships. Harvard President Drew G. Faust accepted the recommendations in her announcement of the policy.
Although Khurana did not mention the sanctions, he stressed the need for “inclusivity and belonging” at Harvard. The path towards a more inclusive modern-day College has “oftentimes been rocky” and was made possible “ by people seeking to balance tradition and change,” Khurana said.
Between Khurana and Jones, former Republican Club President Aaron I. Henricks ’16 gave the traditionally humorous Ivy Oration. Henricks poked fun at the social club sanctions and the membership changes instituted by some final clubs over the past year.
At the beginning of his speech, Henricks invited the graduating class to join him on a trip to Mars, where they would be “disrupting the path and inspiring countless generations to come.”
“It’s like we’re new girl members of the Spee,” Henricks said.
“For those of you who might not know what the Spee is,” Henricks explained, “It’s a former single-sex, gender exclusive social space that’s now a gender inclusive, exclusive social space. Not to be confused with the current gender exclusive, social exclusive spaces—those are the bad ones.” The line was met with laughter and applause.
Henricks also took a moment to directly ask Khurana, who was seated on stage nearby, a question about the single-gender social organization sanctions.
“Do these sanctions apply to my bedroom?” Henricks asked. “Because it’s been single-sex exclusive for four years now.”
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.
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