Latonya Wright ’00, who’s played the cymbals with the Harvard University Band at 22 consecutive Harvard Commencements, can easily jot off her favorite moments over the years.
There was J.K. Rowling’s speech in 2008; Joe Biden’s speech in 2017; and in 1997, the first Commencement she ever attended, musical legend Quincy Jones briefly conducted the Band, the reason Wright has been returning all these years. “When he came over, there was a big flurry of people finding pens,” Wright said.
Yet despite all the pomp, pageantry, and tradition of Harvard’s annual Commencement, Wright’s favorite moments are about the people attending and the joy they express throughout the day — hugs between classmates, smiles as they take selfies, dancing as the band plays, and families proudly witnessing their special students receiving diplomas.
“It’s exciting to play for the celebrities, but it’s becoming more rewarding to play for the students, families, and alumni who come over and film us during the ceremonies,” Wright said. “That usually means that the Band sounds good and the drumline has a satisfying groove happening. The Band is certainly having fun, and I love seeing that others are having fun with us by celebrating and dancing along.”
It never gets old, Wright said, so she hopes to see it all again this year.
“I haven’t missed one since ,” she said. “I suppose at first it was the excitement of a number of different things: getting to spend more time with my friends and [being] in Cambridge, getting to perform for so many people, getting to see and hear all the celebrities and dignitaries receiving honorary degrees. … All those things are still important to me, but now they’ve grown deeper.”
“For me, it’s really moving to have the entire University family together to observe everyone’s special day,” Wright said. “It is Harvard at its most Harvard.”
At her 23rd Commencement, Wright continues to do what she’s done since her very first: crashing cymbals.