It’s hard to believe that summer is over, and all of the new freshmen will be arriving on campus soon. It’s weird to think I won’t be going back to Harvard in September to start school. I will, however, be back on Labor Day to serve as a marshal for Freshman Convocation, which is a fairly new tradition that started with my class. It is essentially a welcoming ceremony, and the only time that a Harvard College class is together in its entirety with the exception of Commencement. Both Convocation and Commencement are nice bookends to a Harvard experience, and I’m definitely jealous of all of the students just starting their journey. If you couldn’t tell by my (still) blogging, I miss it a lot! I imagine I’ll be posting very infrequently from now on, but I thought I’d post this recap I promised several weeks ago.
Commencement is the most wonderful, ludicrous, over-the-top experience. In the weeks leading up to it, I had several people tell me that it would be a crazy, extravagant ceremony, but words simply don’t do it justice. I know it sounds like it’s really far away, but senior year will sneak up on you! As a Class Marshal (which is basically the equivalent of a high school class officer or board member), I was lucky enough to stand at the front of the procession line of faculty, honorees, and special guests. We all stood there, ecstatic, taking photos of each other and of the incredible view we had–both of the stage in front of us and the sea of people behind us. I’m not sure if it’s true, but apparently there were over 32,000 people in Harvard Yard that day.
Commencement is broken up into three parts–the Morning Exercises, Diploma Presentations at the Houses, and the Afternoon Exercises (Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association).
The morning was my favorite. The ceremonies involved a man whose sole responsibility was to call the exercises to order by shouting at the top of his lungs and banging a long metal (?) rod on the ground. He did the same thing to close the ceremonies. He wore a large top hat and had the loudest voice I’ve ever heard. If I remember correctly, he spoke in an accent and appeared as if he could have arrived to Cambridge by horse. Beyond him, there were some incredible speeches that you can YouTube, but the most surreal part was being in front of all of the honorees, who are the leaders in their fields. The honorees included some incredible scientists, philanthropists, and historians, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
The ceremony is really awesome–each dean from the different schools stands up and delivers brief remarks, which is followed by that respective school standing up and President Faust using the words “with the power invested in me” and “confer upon you” (or something to that “official” effect) to grant degrees. The College came last. It is tradition for the Class Marshals and Summa Cum Laude graduates to stand on the steps of the stage, directly in front of the Dean, President, and special guests as our degrees are conferred upon us. While I didn’t cry that entire week, this is where I cracked…a bit. It was very emotional standing up there in front of people like Oprah, and the whole 5 minutes was quite symbolic. I teared up and tried to hold it in, but when I looked over at my friend and fellow Class Marshal, Nadia, who was fanning her face with tears welling up in her eyes, I also started to cry. The best part was when Oprah saw Nadia, stood up, and motioned to hug her. That’s the point when waterworks began for several people and we all started hugging President Faust and Oprah, which was a crazy moment that I still don’t believe happened. Speaking with and meeting Oprah felt really out of body, like a dream. I know I’ll never forget it, and we got a pretty cool picture out of it, too!
The Oprah encounters didn’t end there. After we received our diplomas at our Houses, it was time to run over to the the Afternoon Exercises. I was lucky to have a seat on stage, but little did I know that I was going to be directly behind Oprah. I ended up being on camera nearly throughout her speech, which meant all of my stupid, goofy, and animated faces were documented. I’ve started to call it the image (s) that I will never escape. Footage or pictures of me behind Oprah have found themselves on MSNBC, ABC, various news channels, Pinterest, and all over my Facebook, among other places, I’m sure.
I really wish someone had told me I would be in the camera shot the whole time, but I guess it’s kind of hilarious and I guess it could be worse. I keep telling myself I’m lucky I didn’t fall asleep or yawn obnoxiously or something. After all, we were all up really late the night before Commencement, hanging out with friends, so it was very much a realistic possibility. I also had friends tell me I should have made ugly faces or have done something outrageous to catch peoples’ attention more. They said I had the best opportunity to troll behind Oprah and become a Buzzfeed sensation. Better luck next time? Regardless, if you haven’t seen the video, I’ve included it below, in case you want to see any of my ridiculous reactions and faces.
I’ll hopefully be able to write about some alumni events in New York, as well as Convocation. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos and write to give you a sense of what life as an alum is like! Signing off for now, but leaving you with an awesome photo 🙂