University President Drew G. Faust conferred 1,533 bachelors of arts and bachelors of science degrees on members of the Class of 2018 in Harvard’s 367th Commencement exercises Thursday.
“By virtue of authority delegated to me, I confer on you the first degree in arts or in science and admit you into the fellowship of educated persons,” Faust said to a cheering crowd of black-robed graduates.
Faust—whose participation Thursday marked her last time presiding over Commencement, given she will step down in June 2018—awarded more than 8,000 total degrees to College seniors, students from Harvard’s graduate schools, and students from the Extension School in Tercentenary Theatre. Thousands of people flocked to Harvard Yard to attend the ceremony.
Faust also conferred seven honorary degrees at the morning exercises. University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 introduced the honorees—including former University Provost Harvey V. Fineberg and Pulitzer Prize winning-poet Rita Dove, a professor of English at the University of Virginia.
The morning exercises opened with three speeches, one in Latin and two in English, all delivered by degree candidates in the Class of 2018.
In a speech entitled “Experientia Transfigurativa”—meaning “A Transfigurative Experience”—Latin orator Phoebe M. Lakin ’18 compared Harvard to the fictional wizarding school Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series.
She said students’ “bodies” and “minds” have been transformed while at Harvard, arguing that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana’s oft-repeated assertion that attending the College is a “transformative experience” forms the equivalent of a “prophecy” in the Potter novels.
Christopher E. Egi ’18 delivered the senior English address, in which he recounted his parents’ “trek across the Atlantic” so Egi could pursue an education. He also spoke about the importance of using higher education to fight for those whose dreams have been “deferred [and] denied.”
Egi detailed his memory of the death of Michael Brown—a teenager fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014—and said the event served as a wake-up call.
“Just like me, Michael was black. Just like me, Michael was 18. Just like me, Michael was about to go to college,” Egi said.
Egi said Brown’s death inspired him to “encourage and enable those like Michael Brown whose dreams are deferred and denied.” Egi urged the graduating class of 2018 to “do well and to do good” after leaving Harvard.
Law School student Pete Davis, who delivered the graduate English address, urged graduates to resist “liquid modernity”—which he defined as the impulse to keep one’s options open rather than commit to a cause, community, or person—and instead pursue activism and advocate for justice.
He urged students to “rebel” and “join a counterculture of commitment.”
In between the speeches and the conferring of degrees, the Commencement Choir and the Harvard University Band entertained attendees with performances. A group of students also sang an acapella piece composed by Joshuah B. Campbell ’16 titled “Sing Out, March On.”
As Faust conferred degrees on each group of candidates across the University’s graduate and professional schools, some deans thanked her for her “service” to Harvard. Faust will soon hand over the the University’s reins to President-elect Lawrence S. Bacow, ending a more-than-decade-long turn at Harvard’s helm.
Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley ’82 said he is grateful to Faust.
“Madame President, we thank you for your years of service. We thank you for your wise leadership,” Daley said.
Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, a top contender in the recent presidential search for Faust’s successor, called Faust the “extraordinary Madame President.”
Before closing the morning exercises, Garber said no words could capture the gratitude Harvard affiliates feel for Faust’s leadership.
“Please join me in hoping that our applause will,” Garber said, prompting sustained clapping from the audience.
Faust was not the only departing University administrator who drew praise and applause during the morning exercises Thursday. University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 complimented Dean of the Graduate School of Education James E. Ryan, who announced in Sept. 2017 that he will leave Harvard to serve as president of the University of Virginia at the end of this academic year. Garber wished Ryan well in his new job. Ryan will be succeeded by Ed School professor Bridget Terry Long.
As is traditional during Harvard Commencements, the ceremony opened with the sheriff of Middlesex County—clad in traditional attire and wielding a staff—calling the meeting to order.
At the end of morning exercises, the sheriff again mounted the stage and shouted the meeting was adjourned—an announcement that prompted perhaps the strongest applause of all from thousands of newly minted graduates.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.