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‘Doesn’t Cut It’: College Seniors React to Commencement Announcement

University President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks at Harvard's last in-person Commencement Exercises in 2019. Bacow has vowed to eventually hold an in-person ceremony of the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks at Harvard's last in-person Commencement Exercises in 2019. Bacow has vowed to eventually hold an in-person ceremony of the Classes of 2020 and 2021. By Kai R. McNamee
By Alex Koller and Taylor C. Peterman, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s decision Friday to postpone its in-person Commencement Exercises in favor of a May virtual ceremony for the second year in a row was met with dismay but expectation from some seniors.

Thor Larson ’21 said he was disappointed and “a little surprised” there would be no in-person ceremony for seniors this May.

“I was really hoping I’d be able to walk across a stage somewhere and shake someone’s hand and pick up a diploma in person,” he said. “And I don’t even get to do that.”

Benjamin R. “Benny” Paris ’21 said he is “not a fan” of Harvard’s decision.

“I kind of had my hopes up a little bit that there could be at least a happy ending to this difficult story,” he said. “It feels to me like we could have come up with something creative.”

Paris added his reaction to the announcement was muted.

“I don’t even feel disappointed or angry. I just kind of feel numb,” he said. “I wish I had the energy or the spirit to be more upset about this.”

Satish Wasti ’21 said though he anticipated the University’s decision, he felt disappointed when he heard the news. Still, Wasti said he believes Harvard made the right call.

“I don’t see the feasibility of convening everybody, including parents, in May given the situation of vaccine rollouts and given that all countries are not doing so well,” he said. “So I completely trust Harvard’s decision.”

“I wish we could have that in our time as well, and hopefully someday we will,” Wasti added.

In the emailed announcement, University President Lawrence S. Bacow promised Harvard will eventually hold an in-person celebration for the Class of 2021. Bacow vowed the same for the Class of 2020 last year.

Larson said Bacow’s pledge “doesn’t cut it.”

“I don’t want something two years down the line after I’ve already graduated, started my job somewhere,” he said. “I want something to celebrate the achievement of graduation at the time when I graduate.”

Olivia K. Bryant ’21 said her family was ambivalent about the announcement.

“I saw commencement as this really good opportunity for them to see what I’ve been talking about for four years, and they’re not going to have that,” she said. “But at the end of the day, Commencement’s extremely expensive, and so I think they are glad that they’re not going to have to go through the extreme cost and the stress.”

Bryant, who is studying at home in England, added in an email that she and her parents would not be able to enter the U.S. for an in-person ceremony under current travel restrictions, anyway.

“Most international students would not be able to invite their families to Commencement if it were in person,” she wrote. “So I am grateful that I can ‘graduate’ with my family around me.”

Wasti, an international student from Nepal, said an in-person commencement would have brought his parents to the U.S. for the first time.

“My mother has never actually been in an airplane and my father has never taken an international flight, so it would be really their first chance to see America,” he said. “That most upset me.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on student reactions to the announcement.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana offered his condolences to seniors in a Friday email and wrote he is hopeful a virtual commencement will still honor the graduating class.

“As we mark almost a year since Harvard transitioned to remote learning, I am acutely aware of how different your senior year has been from what you imagined when you came to Harvard,” he wrote. “Please know that while this pandemic may prevent us from physically gathering, it will certainly not prevent us from celebrating Commencement and your accomplishments.”

Khurana also wrote that the College will provide virtual programming to supplement the celebration, including individual House ceremonies and Class Day.

Bryant said she hopes the University will plan ways to make the virtual graduation more engaging and meaningful.

“Especially as they’ve now had it in their mind that this could happen for months, I don’t really see why they can’t be putting more effort into trying to have a bit of a hybrid graduation,” Bryant said. “The ceremony is virtual, but they can help us out with other things like cap and gown and get our diplomas to us as quickly as possible.”

“I want to be able to wear a Harvard cap and gown,” she added.

—Staff writer Alex Koller can be reached at

—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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