Peter Mazareas ’73 and Gabriela Ruiz-Colón ’16 were among a group of alumni volunteers who returned to campus on Monday to marshal First-Year Convocation.

Photo by John Deputy

Campus & Community

Alums return to assist and reminisce at convocation

3 min read

As marshals, graduates show students an even larger Harvard community

Gabriela Ruiz-Colón ’16 has two Harvard class photos in her apartment that she looks at often. One is from her First-year Convocation in the fall of 2012, the second from her Commencement in spring of 2016. Together, the photos bookend her Harvard experience.

“I remember feeling a little lost in the 2012 picture, everything was so new,” says Ruiz-Colón. But by 2016, many classmates in the earlier photo had become her friends. “Harvard would change my life, but I didn’t know that when I was first starting out,” she said.

Harvard College First-Year Convocation didn’t exist when Peter Mazareas ’73 arrived, but he remembers feeling the way Ruiz-Colón did.

“It is an anxious time, particularly move-in day and meeting your classmates and roommates, wondering if you belong and how you fit into the class,” he says. “Nonetheless, during those first few days, I made lifelong friends.”

Ruiz-Colón and Mazareas were among a group of alumni volunteers who returned to campus on Monday to marshal First-Year Convocation, the first official gathering for the College Class of 2022. For the past 10 years, alumni marshals have helped welcome and celebrate the incoming College class, greeting first-year students as they gather at their dorms and leading them into Tercentenary Theatre for the convocation exercises.

Photo by John Deputy

With inspirational speeches from alumni leadership, current students, and University officials, including the Harvard president, along with musical performances by student groups, convocation can help first-years develop a sense of belonging and class unity, as well as of being a part of something even greater.

“Alumni marshals show students there is an even larger Harvard community at their fingertips,” says Mazareas, who has volunteered for all but two of Harvard’s 10 convocation ceremonies since 2009. “By being here to welcome students, marshals also help set a tone that it’s important to remain involved with their Harvard community when they become alumni.”

Ruiz-Colón brings a slightly different perspective, as a young alumna who experienced convocation as a student and has now returned to marshal for the first time. She arrived eager to meet the newcomers and share her experience.

“Most new Harvard students don’t know someone close to them who has also gone to Harvard,” she says. “As a marshal, I want to give new students the opportunity to connect with another part of the Harvard community, and a really valuable one. Knowing that others have come before you can be really helpful.”

Mazareas relishes the opportunity to return to campus. He even makes it a point to find the new occupants of his old dorm room, Holworthy 18. A few years ago, he began a practice that fast caught on: He and other marshals now take pictures of new students at each dorm entryway with their banners, capturing one of their first moments as neighbors.

“I talk to every possible student I can. It’s inspiring to see the diversity of the class,” he says.

Just being on campus brings back “a flood of positive memories” for Ruiz-Colón. The photos in her apartment remind her how she felt as a student.

One specific memory from her own convocation inspires her to participate as an alumna.

“I remember seeing a group of alumni come together and give each other big hugs,” she says. “Coming back as a marshal really brought me back to my first few moments on campus. I was so excited to be a part of this experience.”