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Harvard Seniors Split on 2024 Commencement Speaker Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa, a Nobel Prize-winning journalist and the 2024 Commencement speaker, is pictured. Some Harvard seniors expressed disappointment with the pick.
Maria Ressa, a Nobel Prize-winning journalist and the 2024 Commencement speaker, is pictured. Some Harvard seniors expressed disappointment with the pick. By Courtesy of Alecs Ongcal
By Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard seniors had mixed reactions after the University announced Tuesday that Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa would be the 2024 Commencement speaker.

Tuesday posts on the anonymous social media app Sidechat criticizing the selection garnered more than 200 upvotes, prompting similarly high-engagement replies and posts in defense of Ressa.

A. Ada Cruz ’24 said she was hoping the speaker would be a “household name.”

“I was underwhelmed, disappointed — not by the accomplishments of the person, but I just wanted it to be someone that represented more of the fun side of culture,” Cruz said.

A Harvard spokesperson directed The Crimson to the University’s Tuesday announcement of Ressa’s selection in response to a request for comment.

“Maria Ressa embodies Veritas,” Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 said in a statement to the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication. “We look forward to welcoming her to campus and to acknowledging her outstanding contributions to society.”

Some students compared the choice to last year’s Commencement speaker, actor Tom Hanks.

“At face value, it’s a little bit different than Tom Hanks last year,” Kerry W. Daley ’24 said. “I don’t know if that’s a step down or not — it would have been cool to get a media figure like Tom Hanks.”

“It was definitely not entirely what I expected because I know past classes have had Tom Hanks and speakers like that,” Angelica F. Carillo ’24 said. “I just don’t know enough about her to be excited — but I’m sure she’ll give an amazing commencement speech.”

Many students in the class of 2024 graduated high school in the spring of 2020, when graduation ceremonies were canceled internationally due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Carillo said she’s “just happy that we’re getting a real graduation.”

“Being able to have that moment with our friends I think is really special — ultimately we’re not going to remember the commencement speaker in thirty, forty years from now,” she added.

Lucas Chu ’23-24 heard about the speaker selection on Sidechat, where he said he became frustrated with the “complaining” about Ressa’s selection.

“It got to the point where I literally deleted Sidechat last night,” Chu said.

Several students said Ressa’s selection is timely in the context of backlash against Harvard’s protection of free speech on campus.

Nick Y. Gu ’24 called criticism of the choice “a little bit ridiculous,” adding that it’s “more than ever important that we talk about things.”

“I feel like having a speaker like that who has firsthand experience getting arrested for sticking up for what they believe in is super cool, and super admirable,” he said.

Jeremy O.S. Ornstein ’24 said he is “interested and curious to hear” Ressa’s speech, and offered a message to his disappointed classmates.

“If you’re sad, I’ll sit with you during commencement. But I talk during speeches, so you have to be okay with that — real-time reactions,” Ornstein said.

“Let’s listen and then talk about it, how about that?” he added. “I’ll see you an hour after commencement — I’ll meet you at Shay’s.”

Though he was initially “unsure” of who Ressa was, George J. Alvarez ’24 said he is looking forward to the ceremony.

“No matter who the speaker is, it’ll be sweet to have my Harvard degree in my hands,” Alvarez said.

​​—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at azusa.lippit@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

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