News

Former Defense Department General Counsel Appointed Harvard’s Top Lawyer

News

Democracy Center Protesters Stage ‘Emergency Rally’ with Pro-Palestine Activists Amid Occupation

News

Harvard Violated Contract With HGSU in Excluding Some Grad Students, Arbitrator Rules

News

House Committee on China to Probe Harvard’s Handling of Anti-CCP Protest at HKS

News

Harvard Republican Club Endorses Donald Trump in 2024 Presidential Election

‘Really Powerful’: Harvard Hosts Third Annual AAPI Graduation Ceremony

Harvard Divinity School student Auds H. Jenkins speaks at the AAPI affinity ceremony.
Harvard Divinity School student Auds H. Jenkins speaks at the AAPI affinity ceremony. By Julian J. Giordano
By William C. Mao, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard held an affinity celebration for Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Desi American graduating students on Monday that honored APIDA graduates and featured speeches which discussed APIDA issues and referenced pro-Palestine protests at Harvard and the ongoing war in Gaza.

The ceremony — hosted by Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging — took place beneath a tent in the Science Center Plaza. It was one of several affinity graduations happening across campus on Monday and Tuesday alongside celebrations for Arab, Black, LGBTQ+, disabled, Indigenous and first-generation, low-income students.

The event opened with a dance performance by a member of Urban Khmer, which was followed by speeches from several graduating students from across the University and Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer Christina S. Villarreal.

During her address, Villarreal focused on the theme of “solidarity,” saying she “has always been and forever will be” inspired by the 15 Harvard College seniors who were barred from graduating on Friday evening due to their participation in the Harvard Yard encampment.

On Monday afternoon, though, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences overwhelmingly voted to add 13 students back to the list of degrees recommended for conferral. Per the University’s governing statutes, approval from the Harvard Corporation and Board of Overseers is still required before the degrees can be granted.

“Understand that our liberation is bound with each other, and that none of us are free until all of us are free,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal also quoted from an op-ed written by an anonymous senior whose degree was withheld for one year in the initial Ad Board ruling. The op-ed was posted to the Instagram of Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, an unrecognized coalition of pro-Palestine student groups who staged the encampment in Harvard Yard.

The reading of the op-ed was met with applause from many audience members and eventually a standing ovation from roughly three dozen attendees.

Villarreal also discussed how APIDA people have not always had access to affinity spaces like the AAPI/APIDA graduation ceremony and to universities such as Harvard, praising the “ancestors that dreamed of, fought for, and died for us to have this opportunity.”

“Throughout history, people who looked like me and have my last name were not even allowed to step foot on this campus,” she said. “Spaces, graduations like this, are never given to us.”

Graduating College student Steve S. Li ’24 called all the speeches “really powerful,” though said that Villarreal’s “especially” left an impression.

“I’m really glad that they also spoke about the encampment, they didn’t really hide it,” Li said.

During the ceremony, Villarreal was also awarded the Harvard APIDA Faculty Award for going “above and beyond to create a safe and welcoming campus environment for all to thrive and to support the greater AAPI/APIDA community.”

Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer Christina S. Villarreal addresses the crowd at the affinity celebration for Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Desi American graduates.
Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer Christina S. Villarreal addresses the crowd at the affinity celebration for Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Desi American graduates. By Julian J. Giordano

In addition to Villarreal, several graduating students — Harvard Divinity School master’s student Auds H. Jenkins, Harvard College student Yvette J. Han ’24, and Harvard Kennedy School master’s in public administration student Armughan-e-bu T. Syed — delivered speeches.

In his address, Syed spoke about his newborn daughter who he said is half Muslim and half Jewish, adding that her identity could “symbolize peaceful coexistence, a shared future for Muslims and Jews alike, with equal value for life.”

Syed also urged his peers to “serve your communities” and “to throw yourself deeper into giving of yourself to something greater than yourself.”

Jose L. Alaras, a graduating master’s student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he felt “thankful” for how Villarreal and others focused on solidarity between APIDA students and those from other groups.

“There was a big part of intersectionality that we should all recognize,” he said.

Andrea A. Stull, a graduating masters student at the Harvard Extension School, said she was “happy to celebrate with others from my background.”

“It’s not easy when you have family expectations, society expectations in terms of stereotypes,” she said. “It’s just nice to break all those boundaries, and achieve for dreams that our parents didn’t get the opportunity to achieve.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
CollegeStudent LifeCommencementCollege LifeEthnic or Cultural GroupsUniversityCommencement 2024

Related Articles

Christina S. Villarreal Speaks at AAPI Affinity Ceremony