In his first Commencement as University President, Lawrence S. Bacow conferred 1,554 bachelors of arts and bachelors of science degrees to the Class of 2019 during the morning exercises at Harvard’s 368th Commencement.
Bacow awarded 6,665 degrees to students across the University — including College seniors, students from Harvard’s graduate schools, and students from the Extension School — in Tercentenary Theatre Thursday. Thousands of family members, faculty, and distinguished guests crowded the Yard to participate in the traditional festivities.
Bacow also conferred nine honorary degrees at the morning exercises. The honorees include new secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie G. Bunch III, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and former University President Drew G. Faust — who received a standing ovation when presented with her degree.
Kabir K. Gandhi ’19 and Genesis N. De Los Santos ’19 gave the undergraduate Latin and English speeches, respectively. Harvard Kennedy School student Lucila H. Takjerad delivered the graduate English address.
Gandhi’s speech — entitled “Bibliotheca et Hortus,” meaning “A Library and a Garden” — described Harvard as a garden and a library and urged his fellow graduates to take not only what they have learned from books, but what they have learned “about human wisdom and imagination.”
De Lo Santos recounted her childhood growing up in the South Street Housing Development in Boston, a place she said still “feels worlds apart” from Harvard. She spoke about her family’s close relationship with their neighbors who watched over them during troubling times, comparing these connections to the ones she formed during her years at the College.
De Lo Santos encouraged the graduates to “be conscious” of the privilege their degrees awarded them and give back to the world.
“Let us reflect, but more importantly, be conscious — conscious of the weight that our education holds, conscious of all those who simply do not have the opportunity that could have rightfully been someone else in our place” De Lo Santos said.
In her speech, Takjerad told the story of her illiterate mother who left war-stricken Algeria only after a man signed her name on a list, the only way to leave the country at the time. In remembering her mother, Takjered reminded the Class of 2019 that the little things in life can have a powerful impact.
“The power of little things, the least you can do, can bring real change,” Takjerad said.
Following the student speeches, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 introduced the deans of the various schools who presented degree candidates to Bacow. After his presentation of Harvard Business School candidates, Dean of the Business School Nitin Nohria took a moment to congratulate his daughter Ambika Nohria ’19, a graduating senior in Adams House.
After Bacow conferred bachelor's of arts and bachelors of science degrees, several College students supporting fossil fuel and prison divestment and holding up posters began chanting “divest or this movement will not rest” and “divest, divest, divest and reinvest.” Some students at other schools soon joined the chorus of chants.
Divestment protests also decorated their graduation caps with orange fabric and signs to draw attention to their cause. Divest Harvard and the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign organized this protest as a part of a larger push to urge alumni to refrain from donating to the University while it is still invested portions of its nearly $40 billion endowment in the fossil fuel industry and companies tied to prisons.
Former United States Vice President and 2019 College Class Day speaker Al Gore ’69 joined student activists in calling on Harvard to divest its holdings from fossil fuels in his address Wednesday. Bacow has repeatedly said the University will not divest its investments in fossil fuel companies, arguing that the endowment should be not be used for political means.
—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.