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Harvard Considered Holding Commencement at Harvard Stadium if Encampment Did Not End

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 at last year's commencement ceremonies. University officials considered moving Commencement to Harvard Stadium amid the 20-day pro-Palestine encampment of Harvard Yard.
Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 at last year's commencement ceremonies. University officials considered moving Commencement to Harvard Stadium amid the 20-day pro-Palestine encampment of Harvard Yard. By Frank S. Zhou
By Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writer

Updated May 16, 2024, at 8:53 a.m.

Harvard’s administration considered moving Commencement to Harvard Stadium as the 20-day pro-Palestine encampment of Harvard Yard put the University’s annual graduation ceremony in jeopardy of being canceled.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement Wednesday morning that “the University routinely considers contingency planning for a variety of large events that may be disrupted by a host of factors, including weather.”

“This year, the annual contingency planning for commencement included a broader array of potential challenges and considerations, like the Harvard Stadium,” he wrote.

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, a coalition of pro-Palestine student groups staging the encampment, announced Tuesday morning that it struck a deal with interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 to end the occupation of Harvard Yard in exchange for a meeting with University leadership about Harvard’s endowment and the reinstatement of students who were placed on involuntary leave for their participation in the protest.

The peaceful end of the encampment will allow Commencement to proceed as planned in Harvard Yard as graduates will get to fully experience the ceremony known as “Harvard’s oldest tradition.”

Garber repeatedly signaled that the encampment staged by HOOP needed to end for Commencement to take place as planned in Tercentenary Theatre, the area of the Yard between Memorial Church and Widener Library.

Garber wrote in a May 6 email about the encampment that “thousands of family members, friends, and loved ones will soon join us to celebrate the achievements of graduate and undergraduate students who have earned the right to walk in Commencement.”

“The members of the Class of 2024 deserve to enjoy this milestone uninterrupted and unimpeded,” he wrote. “It would be especially painful if students who graduated from high school or college during the pandemic were denied a full graduation ceremony for a second time.”

The decision to draft contingency plans to potentially move Commencement to Harvard Stadium signals that Garber may have been reluctant to take more drastic measures to end the encampment, like requesting a police response to end the protest, in order for the graduation ceremony to proceed normally in the Yard.

The national pro-Palestine student movement of staging encampments to protest ties to Israel led Columbia University and the University of Southern California to cancel or modify their graduation ceremonies. Other universities have seen walkouts and disruptions during graduation speeches.

Members of the encampment moved several tents to Tercentenary Theater midway through its occupation in an effort to signal that the group was willing to disrupt the graduation ceremony. Protesters also chanted “No divestment, no Commencement” during rallies at the encampment.

The threat of a disrupted or canceled Commencement drew significant student backlash on campus, including on Sidechat, an anonymous social media platform widely used by college students at Harvard.

Newton wrote that the “tradition of degree conferrals taking place in Tercentenary Theater is one that thousands of students, their families and friends look forward to each year.”

“Our University community looks forward to this recognition of our graduates’ academic achievement next week,” he added.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.

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