Campus & Community

Student orators to offer wisdom, perspective, fun

4 min read

Will deliver English, Latin speeches

Latin orator for this year’s Commencement, graduating senior Pankaj K. Agarwalla, practices his speech, employing some tried-and-true rhetorical gestures and flanked by appropriately ancient-looking coats of arms. (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

They’ll speak of things past, and of things yet to come. They’ll offer the knowing humor of one who has been there. And one will do it in Latin.

Each year, three students are among the speakers who address Harvard’s student body and the Commencement audience in Tercentenary Theatre, a gathering roughly 32,000 strong. The speakers include two undergraduates who deliver the English and the Latin orations. The third speaker, a student at one of the graduate schools, delivers the graduate English oration.

This year’s speakers include Kathryn L. Rakoczy, a graduating senior who served as The Crimson’s associate managing editor from 2003 to 2004; she will deliver the senior English address. Another graduating senior, Pankaj K. Agarwalla, will deliver the Latin address, and law student Stephen E. Frank will present the graduate English address.

Frank’s speech will be something of a return engagement. When he graduated from Harvard College in 1995, Frank delivered the senior English address.

Kathryn L. Rakoczy, a graduating senior who served as The Crimson’s associate managing editor from 2003 to 2004, will deliver the senior English address. (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

University Marshal Jackie O’Neill said she appreciates the effort that goes into preparing the addresses, which are among the most anticipated speeches of the morning’s Commencement Exercises.

“Many think the orations are the highlight of the Morning Exercises. I now know firsthand what an extraordinary amount of behind-the-scenes effort goes into preparing the orators for the moment when they take the stage and face an audience of 30,000 people,” O’Neill said. “The students set very high standards for themselves, and with the help of many, but especially Richard Thomas, the chair of the Commencement Parts Committee, meet those standards and by doing so, become a part of Harvard history.”

The speakers are chosen in a competition that begins in April, when copies of the five-minute speeches are due to the Commencement Office. After reviewing the typewritten copies of the speeches, a committee of judges selects the best to participate in preliminary auditions. After that, a final audition is held and then the speakers are chosen.

The speakers cited a variety of inspiration for their talks. Frank, who spent the weeks before Commencement preparing to take the New York Bar Exam, said his speech will be something of a sequel to the one he gave as a graduating senior, and will draw on lessons from family members about the value of lifelong learning.

Agarwalla, who has a fellowship at Oxford University next year, said his speech,

Law student Stephen E. Frank will present the graduate English address. (Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office)

whose English title is “Oration on the Evolution of the Harvard Student,” will talk about the changes the last four years have wrought. Agarwalla, a Classics concentrator, said he is looking forward to the speech in part because chances to address so many people in Latin don’t come along very often.

“[I] won’t have another chance to give an oration of such magnitude in Latin ever. I can’t pass up the chance,” Agarwalla said.

Rakoczy said she is happy to speak in this year’s Commencement in part because she has enjoyed watching past ceremonies and hearing what past speakers have taken from their Harvard experiences.

Rakoczy said her talk will reflect on her own experience over the past four years, during which she underwent a lot of personal change. Rakoczy reflected on the upcoming ceremonies, saying she’s excited about graduating, but that she also thinks she’s going to miss the people she has grown close to over the past four years.

While she will do her best to keep in touch, Rakoczy will spend the next year in Cairo on a teaching internship and so will have to contend with considerable distance.

“I’m kind of in a state of denial,” Rakoczy said. “It flies by too quickly…. It’s going to be hard not being around the people you’ve been around every day.”