Connections and change were the theme Monday afternoon as Harvard College’s Class of 2023 proceeded to the Science Center Plaza tent for their First-Year Convocation and an address by President Larry Bacow. Change was even part of the ceremony.
Under darkening skies, the gathering planned for Tercentenary Theatre moved to the plaza, in the first of what will likely be many twists and turns in the first-years’ College careers. The switch was helped along by cheers and a lively processional from the Harvard University Band. The class is 1,650 strong; 13.1 percent of them are international students; and 14.5 percent of them are the first in their families to attend college. As they have for more than a decade, alumni volunteers served as marshals, greeting the students at their dorms and leading them into the exercises.
In welcoming the students, Bacow emphasized how connection and growth are intrinsically linked to change. “Anyone who is thinking of the next four years as a series of stepping-stones to a predetermined outcome — be it an award, a concentration, a job, a specific career, or anything else — is a person who will miss the point of this place,” he said.
Before Bacow’s remarks, Stephanie Paulsell, the Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies at Harvard Divinity School and interim Pusey Minister at the Memorial Church, gave the opening invocation. In her inclusive prayer, she noted that “not every member of the class has arrived on campus.” Although she did not name Ismail Ajjawi, a Palestinian resident of Lebanon who had been denied entry into the U.S., her message highlighted the need for inclusion as she asked for “forms of community that illuminate connections between us.” (In a late development, Ajjawi was permitted entry and will be attending classes on Tuesday.)
Dean of Students Katherine O’Dair then welcomed Harvard’s 372nd class, noting that the College experience gives incoming scholars “a chance to redefine ourselves,” and cautioning them against spending all their time spent studying or honing a particular skill. In four years as dean, she said, she has found “the most rewarding parts of my day are the ones I didn’t plan,” reminding the first-years that, “The journey you are on is as important as the destination.”