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Harvard Celebrates Second Graduates with Disabilities Affinity Ceremony

Harvard Law School alumna and disability rights attorney Carrie Griffin Basas delivers the keynote address at the second annual celebration of graduates with disabilities.
Harvard Law School alumna and disability rights attorney Carrie Griffin Basas delivers the keynote address at the second annual celebration of graduates with disabilities. By Addison Y. Liu
By Azusa M. Lippit and Cam N. Srivastava, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard kicked off its affinity graduation celebrations with its second annual celebration of graduates with disabilities in a Monday morning ceremony at the Student Organization Center at Hilles.

The ceremony, which was hosted by Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, was first in a series of ten other affinity celebrations occurring during this week’s Commencement exercises for the Class of 2024.

After Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier gave introductory remarks, Adrian S. Anantawan, a Canadian violinist and graduate of the Graduate School of Education, came to the stage to perform a musical selection from ‘Butterfly Lovers Concerto.’

Anantawan said ‘Butterfly Lovers Concerto’ reminds him of his grandmother’s belief in him, whom he credits as having viewed him “as a complete person.”

“It was my grandmother’s favorite piece, and every single time that I play it, it always invokes her spirit and belief,” Anantawan said.

Adrian S. Anantawan, a Canadian violinist and graduate of the Graduate School of Education, performed during the celebration.
Adrian S. Anantawan, a Canadian violinist and graduate of the Graduate School of Education, performed during the celebration. By Addison Y. Liu

The Excellence in Accessibility and Inclusion Faculty Award, which recognizes instructors who have fostered a safe and accessible campus and advocated for disability rights, was presented to Walid Yassin, an instructor at the Harvard Medical School.

Michael Ashley Stein, last year’s faculty recipient and Harvard Law School visiting professor, presented the award to Yassin.

“Walid approaches people with open arms. Everyone around the University — students, staff, faculty — know him as a resource for all kinds of diversity — neurodiversity, disability diversity,” Stein said. “He is warm, loving, supportive, just a wonderful person to have around.”

Yassin started his speech with a plant metaphor to illustrate the importance of collaboration.

“Even within the wide possibilities of plants that we can grow, we choose based on what our needs are, and what we value the most. Because of this, we have something unique to offer,” Yassin said.

“Only together we can achieve the extraordinary and better future for all,” he added.

Harvard Law School alumna and disability rights attorney Carrie Griffin Basas, who delivered the keynote address at the event, said she faced obstacles at Harvard as a student with a disability.

“I hated Harvard,” Basas said. “I felt so alone here.”

“In some ways, I felt very traumatized by this place, and I haven’t been back at all,” she added. “So when I got a call that you all were doing this, I had so much feeling.”

Basas also discussed the process of developing pre-professional pursuits as a student at Harvard.

“I went to career services. The pamphlet they had on disability was that we make really kind, friendly employees,” Basas said. “I’m not sure that that would be my Yelp review at this point — I don’t think a law firm wants me to come and smile at it.”

In response to a request for comment, University spokesperson Jason A. Newton referred The Crimson to a 2020 Harvard Gazette interview in which Stein reflected on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Over time, Harvard gets things right. The University certainly is committed to complying with disability laws regarding accessibility, and over 35 years the physical and virtual landscapes have dramatically transformed,” Stein said during the interview.

Kris King ’24, who gave the student address, discussed challenges students with disabilities have faced “growing into adulthood” at Harvard amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If you had told me as an undiagnosed and chronically failing middle schooler that I would be graduating from Harvard, I never would have believed you, and I know so many of you all have similar stories,” King said.

“So many of us have grown into our identities as disabled people concurrently growing into adulthood and been forced to do so in the backdrop of the COVID 19 pandemic,” King added.

Kosti S. Psimopoulos, a member of the Harvard Alumni Disability Alliance who holds a degree in bioethics from Harvard Medical School, emphasized the high percentage of doctors who say they do not have training in treating people with disabilities.

“82 percent of all physicians — this is from a paper in Health Affairs from 2021 — 82 percent of all physicians, medical doctors, those in healthcare self-assess as having little to no training on how to treat people with disabilities, how to have any kind of patient who presents with a disability,” Psimopoulos said.

Psimopoulous also pointed to the importance of teaching young people moral values that allow them to become “good, active, and productive citizens.”

“We’re not there yet. So all of you as Harvard graduates now, or after tomorrow at least, you need to do more collectively,” Psimopoulos said.

“Show others how to care for and respect one another, and eventually how to strive toward peace, understanding, and unassailable respect for human dignity,” he added.

In her closing remarks, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston called on the graduates to use their undergraduate experience in “solving some of the world’s greatest problems.”

“Bring all of who you are into the next phase of your life. All of those who have influenced you, every obstacle, bring it to bear on every challenge that you will face,” Charleston said.

“Remember — you did it at Harvard, you can do it anywhere,” she added.

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

—Staff writer Cam N. Srivastava can be reached at cam.srivastava@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @camsrivastava.

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