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At Harvard Class Day 2023, Comedian Larry Wilmore Calls on Graduating Seniors to Pursue Their Passions

Comedian, writer, and producer Larry Wilmore addressed graduating seniors at Class Day on Wednesday.
Comedian, writer, and producer Larry Wilmore addressed graduating seniors at Class Day on Wednesday. By Julian J. Giordano
By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

Emmy Award-winning television writer and comedian Larry Wilmore addressed the Harvard College Class of 2023 Wednesday, encouraging students to view success as a journey rather than a destination.

Class Day, which traditionally occurs the day before Commencement, celebrates the accomplishments and identity of the graduating senior class. This year’s installation included orations from students, addresses from Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and incoming Harvard Alumni Association President Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06, and a keynote speech from Wilmore, who was selected by the senior Class Committee.

Wilmore’s writing credits include the television shows “In Living Color,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and “Black-ish.” He is also known for serving as the “Senior Black Correspondent” on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and creating the sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show.”

On Wednesday, Wilmore reflected in his speech on his childhood job selling books door-to-door and how he developed a vision for the meaning of success in his life.

“Sometimes people ask me, when did I consider myself a success, and I tell them, ‘The minute I decided to follow my life’s passion,” Wilmore said. “Success wasn’t a destination. It was a journey.”

Wilmore also offered three pieces of “pseudowisdom” to the graduating seniors, or phrases to use as they go forth in their lives: “It is what it is,” “Do what you gotta do,” and “Play better.”

“It’s for when you’re trying to take it to the next level or see some kind of improvement in your life, or you’re just unsatisfied with where you’re headed: ‘Play better,’” Wilmore said of his third “pearl” of wisdom.

Wilmore concluded his speech with a call for graduating seniors to pursue their passions in the face of hesitancy.

“One of the biggest obstacles you’ll face in the years ahead is fear,” Wilmore said. “Fear can be so destructive in our lives. On a global scale, fear is at the root of war. It’s at the root of hatred, of bigotry, of division, and some of the ugliest human movements.”

“I want you to be fearless in your lives. I want you to do the things you never imagined you could do,” he added.

Preceding Wilmore’s speech, Khurana gave an address where he highlighted his philosophy on serendipity.

“It’s one of the endearing charms of Harvard, that its elaborate structure of campus life invites the impromptu conversations on the shuttle bus that lead to a new interest, a thesis topic unveiling itself in the midst of a dining hall conversation, a friend for life discovered because you were late for class and sat in a different seat,” Khurana said.

Class Committee First Marshal Athena Q. Ye ’23 delivered opening remarks, which discussed ways that the class adapted to hurdles created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the importance of establishing connections with others at Harvard.

“As we burst the Harvard bubble and enter into the real world, I challenge you all to continue tying knots to the people and communities you love the most,” Ye said. “These will be the relationships that make you the best person you can be.”

“I have a knot in my chest saying goodbye to you all this week,” she added.

Sterling M. Bland ’23 delivered the Harvard Oration — an original speech titled “What Were You Born to Do” — where he encouraged his classmates to discard the idea that specific people were “born to do great things.”

“It becomes too easy to believe the lie that we were somehow destined for greatness, while others were not,” Bland said. “It’s too easy to believe that somehow we’re exceptional. Don’t believe the lie.”

Ivy Orator Amelia M. Cossentino ’23 gave a humorous speech that poked fun at myriad aspects of Harvard’s campus culture — from partying at final clubs to entering careers in finance — and featured an impromptu selfie with Khurana.

Dean Khurana takes a selfie with Amelia M. Cossentino '23, who delivered the Ivy Oration at Class Day.
Dean Khurana takes a selfie with Amelia M. Cossentino '23, who delivered the Ivy Oration at Class Day. By Julian J. Giordano

“We have all experienced very different Harvards; some of us were Widener fiends, others Lamonsters. Some of us did improv, others had sex,” Costantino said. “Going forward, some of us will do finance, others will do finance, others will do finance.”

Class Committee Second Marshal Chibuike K. “Chibby” Uwakwe ’23 delivered the closing remarks, where he also invoked the class’ fortitude in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Witnessing our class’ resilience and fortitude during our time here has been both a privilege and an honor,” Uwakwe said.

During the ceremony, friends of Arda Cataltepe ’23 and Sergio A. Diaz ’23 — seniors who died during the fall semester — also took the stage to deliver words of remembrance.

Actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks is set to address the Class of 2023 on Thursday during the University’s 372nd Commencement exercises.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.

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