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‘Aspiration of Future Generations’: Harvard Celebrates First-Generation, Low-Income Graduates at Affinity Event

Rosa M. Martinez speaks during the first-generation, low-income student affinity graduation ceremony.
Rosa M. Martinez speaks during the first-generation, low-income student affinity graduation ceremony. By Jina H. Choe
By Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard celebrated first-generation, low-income students in the graduating Class of 2024 at an affinity group event held Monday afternoon.

The event — organized by Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging — was attended by nearly 500 students and family members from across the University. The celebration was one of several that the OEDIB is set to host this week to celebrate specific identities ahead of the University’s Commencement ceremony for all graduates on Thursday.

During the event, Rosa M. Martinez, the president of First-Gen Students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, applauded students for successfully navigating a “foreign space.”

“You have unbound societal expectations and have done something incredibly difficult for any first generation person to do,” Martinez said.

“You are not only your ancestors’ wildest dreams, but the aspiration of future generations to follow,” Martinez added.

Martinez used her story of being a first-generation, low-income student born to immigrant farmworkers to remind graduates to give back and leave “the door open for others.”

Syed R. Ahmed, a Ph.D. student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, reminded students to be grateful for the contributions of their families.

“Our journeys are a function of the sacrifices that our communities have made, and the probabilities that have come together in just the right way,” Ahmed said. “One tiny change, and you could have been someone else in an entirely different situation.”

Ahmed urged students to “actively and attentively listen” in future academic and professional endeavors.

“Regardless of where you end up, I implore you to empathize, because it serves as an unflappable force to unite us,” Ahmed added.

The celebration comes just days after Harvard College suspended five students and placed more than 20 other students on probation for their participation in the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard.

Sabrina C. McFarland-Kelley, a HGSE student who wore a keffiyeh — a traditional Palestinian scarf — during their speech, was the sole speaker to explicitly address the war in Gaza.

“Families in Gaza deserve to graduate too,” McFarland-Kelley said to animated applause from other graduates.

Several speakers also addressed feelings of self-doubt among the graduates, saying that graduating from Harvard was evidence enough of their merit and drive.

Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston told students that through growing up in a disadvantaged background, they developed an ability to overcome challenges.

“You have all of the navigational ability to be able to succeed anywhere in the world, including one of the greatest institutions around the globe,” Charleston said.

Taj M. Smith, who graduated from the Divinity School in 2016, urged students to remember their “intrinsic value” and avoid feeling the need to constantly prove themselves.

“When imposter syndrome creeps up in the future, it’s not because you don’t belong, wherever you are. If anything, it’s because you do belong,” Smith said.

“And the people in power know that and they hate it — they’re terrified,” Smith added.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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