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Admissions Dean, Securitas Guard To Address 2024 Grads After Other Speakers Turn Harvard Down

Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 will serve as one of two keynote speakers at the 2024 Class Day ceremony on Wednesday after the Harvard Alumni Association could not find a more high-profile candidate to deliver the address.
Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 will serve as one of two keynote speakers at the 2024 Class Day ceremony on Wednesday after the Harvard Alumni Association could not find a more high-profile candidate to deliver the address. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

​​The 2024 Senior Class Committee wanted Barack Obama or Drake to speak at Class Day, but the Harvard Alumni Association said they had Class Day speakers at home this year.

Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 and Securitas employee Bill Oliverio will address graduating seniors on May 22 during Class Day, Senior Class First Marshal Fez S. Zafar ’24 announced in a group chat with Harvard seniors Monday afternoon.

Past keynote speakers at Harvard have included high-profile athletes, politicians, actors, musicians, and academics, but the HAA and the Senior Class Committee asked Fitzsimmons and Oliverio to serve as emergency speakers for the ceremony after they could not attract a high-profile candidate to address graduating seniors at the annual ceremony.

More than 10 candidates declined offers to speak at Class Day, citing scheduling conflicts, high honorarium requests, and a desire to distance themselves from Harvard amid an avalanche of controversy surrounding the University, according to Senior Class First Marshal Fez S. Zafar ’24.

The lack of celebrities willing to agree to speak at Class Day could be the clearest sign yet that Harvard’s reputation has taken a hit following a year of almost nonstop controversies.

The speakers were announced by Zafar in a message to Harvard seniors on the messaging platform GroupMe, who acknowledged that this year’s speakers were a “unique” yet “unconventional” choice.

“Uniqueness is a quality that has been invariably tied to our class since we first arrived at the Yard,” he added. “Time and time again, the Class of 2024 has tried to make the most of every situation, and turn unexpected situations into opportunities.”

A Harvard Alumni Association spokesperson wrote in a Monday evening statement that it was “thrilled” to celebrate the Class of 2024.

“We look forward to hearing from Dean Fitzsimmons and Bill Oliverio, and to welcoming the Class of 2024 to the community of Harvard alumni,” the spokesperson wrote.

Fitzsimmons first started working in Harvard’s Admissions and Financial Aid office in 1972, and has served as its dean since 1986. He has recently worked to guide Harvard through a revamped application and reversion to test-mandatory policies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action.

Oliverio is a security guard for Currier House and has worked at the College for “well over a decade” according to Zafar.

“He is one of the most beloved and familiar figures on campus,” Zafar wrote. “He cares deeply about the students under his watch, and even goes out of his way to attend sporting events in support of the student athletes he has befriended.”

Candidates who were contacted by the HAA but declined to speak at Class Day include actor and Harvard dropout Matt Damon, 15-time NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal, and five-time Grammy award-winning rapper Drake.

The Senior Class Committee’s initial candidate pool — not all of whom were contacted — also included former First Lady Michelle Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79, comedian Bill F. Burr, and Golden Globe-winning actors George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A Harvard College spokesperson said none of those who were asked to speak at Class Day cited ongoing campus controversy as the reason they would not confirm their participation.

Since 1968, Harvard College’s Senior Class Committee, composed of 14 senior class marshals, has selected a speaker to address graduating seniors on Class Day.

Class Day — an annual ceremony that typically includes remarks from a keynote speaker, the dean of the College, and students — typically takes place the day before the University-wide Commencement, which will be on May 23 this year in Harvard Yard.

Last year’s keynote speaker was comedian Larry Wilmore, who encouraged students to pursue their passions and to view their success as a journey, rather than a destination, in his speech.

Fitzsimmons and Oliverio will deliver their addresses to the graduating senior class at Tercentenary Theatre. The following day, Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa will speak at the University’s 373rd Commencement.

Zafar wrote in his GroupMe messages to College seniors that both Fitzsimmons and Oliverio are “very excited” and “willing” to share their perspectives.

“Both of these individuals present a very unique perspective of Harvard that we rarely hear from,” he added.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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