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Poet Tracy Smith Elected 2019 Commencement Chief Marshal of Alumni

Tercentenary Theater Commencement 2016
Tercentenary Theater during Commencement in 2016.

United States poet laureate Tracy K. Smith ’94 has been elected the 25th reunion chief marshal and will lead the 368th iteration of Harvard’s Commencement exercises, the University announced last week.

The honor is bestowed upon a member of each year’s 25th Reunion Class who has achieved career success, made notable contributions to society, and engaged in service to the College, according to the Harvard Alumni Association wesbite. In her role, Smith will represent the University’s alumni at Commencement, host an annual lunch for dignitaries in Widener Library, and lead the afternoon’s alumni procession.

Notable alumni who have held the position include former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Class of 1904, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ’86, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey ’92. Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo ’93 served as last year’s chief marshal.

A committee of members of the Class of 1994 selected Smith for the position from among a group of nine other alumni nominees.

Smith, a former Crimson editor, graduated from the College with a degree in English and African American Studies. She then pursued an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and went on to write several award-winning books of poetry. Smith is now a professor in the humanities at Princeton University and directs the school’s creative writing program. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2012 for her book “Life on Mars.”

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The Library of Congress appointed Smith as the 22nd U.S. poet laureate in June 2017. She is currently serving a second term in that role.

In addition to serving as chief marshal, Smith will receive the Harvard Arts Medal from University President Lawrence S. Bacow in May. The medal is awarded annually to alumni of Harvard or Radcliffe for their achievements in the arts. Past recipients include Margaret E. Atwood ’62 and Matt P. Damon ’92.

In an interview with the Harvard Gazette Thursday, Smith said it is a “privilege” to serve as chief marshal.

“I am eager to join with my fellow alumni as we celebrate the graduates’ impact on Harvard and the many ways Harvard has readied them for bright futures,” she said.

Smith credits her time as a student at Harvard for her love of poetry, according to the Harvard Alumni Association’s website. In addition to the College’s creative writing program, she cited organizations including The Crimson, the Harvard Advocate, and the Dark Room Collective — a prominent African-American poetry group in Boston — as influences on her career.

“I came to understand that poetry is a means of making deeper and more complex connections with the wider world, and of wrestling more satisfyingly with my many private questions, anxieties, and concerns,” Smith wrote.

This year’s Commencement exercises will take place in Tercentenary Theatre on May 30. Angela D. Merkel is scheduled to deliver the principal address at the ceremony.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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