Cornell Brooks addressing graduates.

Cornell Brooks, Kennedy School professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice, encouraged Harvard’s midyear graduates to look for role models and mentors as they moved forward.

Photos by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

‘Step up, and declare what you stand for’

3 min read

Celebrating the accomplishments of midyear grads

For many of Harvard’s midyear graduates, the idea that education takes place both inside and outside the classroom is more than a well-worn cliché — it’s lived experience. Whether they took time away from campus or achieved advanced standing to finish early, their journeys and the communities they created helped them discover their voices, take risks, and explore new opportunities.

Nearly 100 graduates gathered with their families, friends, and the Harvard community to celebrate their accomplishments at Friday’s Midyear Graduates Recognition Ceremony at the Knafel Center. Speakers included Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College; Cornell Brooks, Harvard Kennedy School professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice; Philip Lovejoy, associate vice president and executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association; and Zeynep Ertugay, a graduating concentrator in social studies.

In his remarks, Brooks encouraged graduates to look for role models and mentors among their families, colleagues, and peers; to love boldly; to lead bravely; and be willing, he urged, “to step out, step forth, step up, and declare what you stand for.”

Angelina Ye address graduates.
Angelina Ye ’20, Second Class Marshal, addresses students in the Knafel Center.

Ashley LaLonde, a performing artist who concentrated in sociology with a secondary in Theater, Dance & Media, finds herself attending Commencement exactly four years from the day she was admitted to Harvard. Looking back on her unusual experience, running from tech rehearsals to all-nighters in Lamont Library and hopping on buses for performances, she said, “It feels very clear that this was the place I was supposed to be.”

Harvard dean at the podium.
Graduate delivers a speech.

Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College shares a story while student speaker Zeynep Ertugay ’20 tells graduates about discovering her passion for public service while at Harvard.

A concentrator in government and sociology, Rahsaan King, who started an online tutoring business geared toward at-risk students while in College, offered this lesson: “Do what you want to do, but allow the people, the courses, the professors, and the culture to change you. If you disqualify people from being your teacher, you limit the things that you have access to learn.” Alexander Hively, who studied classical civilizations, echoed King’s sentiment. “Find what you truly love, get involved in it, and make it a priority,” he said.

Eva DiIanni-Miller, a social studies concentrator, said, “I’m definitely excited to take the next step and figure out what that looks like, but I’m already feeling a little nostalgic for Harvard.” She plans to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient, 500-mile pilgrimage route through northern France and southern Spain. Upon her return home, she hopes to get involved in a 2020 political campaign.

Graduates hugging with flowers in hand.
Graduate Elizabeth Keeley ’19 receives a warm hug from a friend at the conclusion of the ceremony at Knafel Center.

Ertugay, the student speaker, discovered a passion for public service as a volunteer at Y2Y Harvard Square. She is also looking ahead, and hopes to become an educator focused on the intersection between migration and children’s rights.

Ertugay took inspiration from astronomy class for her speech. The traditional graduation cycle has a strong gravitational pull, but some students may need to break away into a different orbit, she said.

“The four-year orbit works for some people, and for some people it’s too long, or too short. The fact that some of us are able to question that is a really cool thing to celebrate.”