‘Be that voice for compassion, learning, understanding, and unity’

A collection of stories covering Harvard University’s 373rd Commencement.

Students and families connected at Class Day ceremonies while speakers, including leaders in business and government, offered graduates perspective, inspiration, and the wisdom born of experience. Here’s a selection from Wednesday’s remarks:

Harvard Kennedy School

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to China, former HKS Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations

“It’s not, ‘What will I gain?’ It’s not, ‘What will I profit from?’ It’s not, ‘What’s in it for me?’ It’s, ‘Ask what you can do to make this a better world.’ The Kennedy School asks that you not just be involved in the world but be great in the world. As you graduate, consider how you, in small and big ways, can be a force for civil discussion, civil debate in a democracy. Can you be a force for unity in a world that sometimes it appears just wants to divide and even disintegrate? Be that voice for compassion, learning, understanding, and unity.”

Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 speaking on Class Day.
Niles Singer/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard College

William Fitzsimmons, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

“I think the Class of 2024 is truly one of the greatest classes in Harvard history, but it’s not all their doing. What’s interesting is that many of them actually wrote essays about their parents, or their aunts and uncles or their grandparents or other significant people, but it usually came back to family and how family shaped them. … As amazing as the Class of 2024 is, we have to remember that Michael Sandel and my mother were right. My mother always told us we were born on third base, given the great family we had. And Michael Sandel always reminds us to be humble, which is great advice. … I think we have to understand exactly what our achievements are and what they aren’t. I think it’s also good for us to be reminded that there’s an enormous amount of talent outside of 02138.”

Photo by Steven Lipofsky

Harvard Medical School/Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Melissa Gilliam, M.D. ’93, incoming president, Boston University

“You have discovered abilities that you did not know you had. You speak new language — words like ‘bezoar,’ ‘satiety,’ and ‘caries,’ they roll off your tongue. To push yourself when you are very tired, you will tell yourself that you are strong, you do not need sleep, you do not need food, you do not need to sit, you do not need to rest. But one thing is for certain: you do need other people. Without the support and comfort of your relationships, it’s just not a long-term strategy for achieving your goals. So, my second message to you is, love your family and friends. And, really, that is not enough. It is easy — mostly — to love your family and friends. But I would challenge you to seek to love people who are not known to you and, even more so, who are different than you. If we are going to care for people, make scientific discoveries for people, then you must see people and hold their humanity in the highest regard.”

Deb Haaland speaking on Class Day.
Photo by Jodi Hilton

Harvard Law School

Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“Seize your newfound power, your influence, your hearts, and your expertise and put it to good use. Good use that will outlive each of us. Good use that will ensure future generations can live the prosperous lives they deserve. Good use that will make you proud to be a lawyer, because we can’t build the world we deserve without each of you. Be grateful for the gifts in the universe that have been prepared just for you so that you can regift. And remember that you are part of a community, today and every day, that is rooting for your success.” 

Melissa Hoffer speaking on Class day at Harvard Chan School.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Melissa Hoffer, Climate Chief, State of Massachusetts

“The worldview that conceives of humans as somehow exempt from the laws of chemistry and biology and physics — it is that idea that is now destabilizing the climate and threatening the ecosystems that support all life. That mindset allows many of us, especially the most privileged among us, to continue to live as if in a trance.”

Desiree Rogers speaking at HBS.
Hensley Carrasco/HBS

Harvard Business School

Desiree Rogers, M.B.A. ’85, CEO of Black Opal

“I kept my mouth shut and did not speak in that first marketing class, but sitting through a few more classes and getting to know my classmates, I realized that what felt like a weakness was actually a strength. It was important that my voice was heard — and I did learn to comment in class — but it was also key that I listen. I already knew what I thought about a case, so hearing what others thought broadened my base of understanding. And that included opinions that I did not agree with. And as it worked out, that impulse to listen would not only make me a better leader, but help to make me a better friend and parent.”

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