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‘Adjust on the Fly’: Harvard Undergrads Receive Diplomas at House Ceremonies Despite Rain and Protest

Harvard College seniors receive diplomas at a ceremony at Leverett House Thursday afternoon.
Harvard College seniors receive diplomas at a ceremony at Leverett House Thursday afternoon. By Frank S. Zhou
By Azusa M. Lippit and Cam N. Srivastava, Crimson Staff Writers

Whether they chose to participate in a pro-Palestine walkout or remain seated at the University-wide Commencement, undergraduates streamed to their residential Houses Thursday afternoon to officially receive their diplomas.

The College’s 12 upperclassmen Houses host yearly ceremonies during which the Faculty Deans, the Allston Burr Resident Dean, and one undergraduate student deliver remarks before students receive their degrees.

Thursday’s House ceremonies came just hours after more than 1,000 students walked out of Harvard’s Commencement ceremony after the University prevented 13 seniors from graduating over their participation in the 2o-day pro-Palestine encampment of Harvard Yard.

Still, several undergraduates said the House ceremonies were largely unaffected by the political events of the morning — for some, the greatest inconvenience was the weather.

Though many of the ceremonies were intended to take place outside, a sudden thunderstorm and downpour forced House staff to relocate to indoor locations, several at significantly reduced capacity.

Leverett and Winthrop Houses had their students and families gather indoors in staggered groups in alphabetical order, while House staff live-streamed a Zoom video of the ceremony elsewhere in the building. Before the Adams House ceremony, graduates and their families were lined up for food in a large tent on the Malkin Athletic Center lawn, but thunder sent them crowding into the fourth floor of the MAC.

Some students said the Commencement walkout and relocation of House ceremonies due to inclement weather served as yet another unpredictable outcome in an unique four years for the Class of 2024.

“It’s definitely appropriate for us to have to sort of adjust on the fly, given how our high school graduation went, and then freshman year was Covid, and still dealing with stuff all the way through this year,” Sam L. Silverstein ’24 said.

Despite the weather, Noah A. Jun ’24 said the feeling of holding his diploma was “so surreal.”

Jun said the Mather House ceremony displayed particularly close-knit bonds among the House’s graduating students and affiliates.

“It was just deafening applause for each person,” Jun said. “Everyone knew each other — it’s really cool how you see the seniors interacting with each other, interacting with the House staff, and underclassmen as well.”

Some graduates also acknowledged the impact of the Commencement walkout and pro-Palestine rhetoric during the main ceremony earlier in the day.

“I think the chaos of everything today definitely fits in with the climate of what has been going on at this campus for the past year,” Leverett House graduate Calliste A.O. Skouras ’24 said. “I think the mess of it all kind of puts things into perspective — that it doesn’t really matter if today doesn’t go perfectly, I’m happy to have just spent the last four years here.”

Palis “Fresh” Pisuttisarun ’24 said while disruptions to Commencement may not be part of what he would consider an ideal graduation, he valued their importance in helping to address controversial topics on campus.

“As much as I would have loved a picture perfect, disruption-free graduation, I do think they were important in demonstrating how palpable those tensions were in our community and to bring light to it,” Pisuttisarun said.

Nick C. Gabrieli ’24 said he was surprised by how prominently the pro-Palestine activism on campus factored into the various speakers’ addresses during the ceremony.

“I knew there were going to be protesters external, but it was also mentioned by maybe all, or at least most of the student speakers, and several of the speakers listed with the College as well,” he said.

Gabrieli also said he thought the focus on pro-Palestine efforts on campus made this year’s Commencement center around different messages more than in a typical year.

“It did distract somewhat from the traditional focus of the ceremony on just the sort of standard, ‘Now you are college graduates — go forth into the world,’” Gabrieli said. “Maybe that’s appropriate given the issue.”

“There’s just a trade off, obviously, in terms of airtime,” he added.

Lucas Chu ’23-’24, who walked out of the University-wide Commencement ceremony, said the additional “People’s Commencement” ceremony staged by pro-Palestine protesters — alongside the main Commencement programming and House celebrations — could make up for the high school graduation missed by many in the Class of 2024.

“There’s all this talk that this is our first graduation, and I appreciate that now some of these students had multiple graduations in one day, so they can make up for missing out,” Chu said.

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

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

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