Members of the graduating A.L.B./A.L.M. Joint Program at Harvard Extension School flew in from around the country to gather in the Yard early Thursday morning with their families and loved ones. Eric Menzel, who moved from Ohio to California during the pandemic, Clint Agar from Minnesota, Barry Boyer from Los Angeles, and Else Cole from Indianapolis were among the 11 graduates who called themselves the Silver Unicorns, named for the wooden figure that adorns the Old State House in Boston. Menzel wore unicorn socks while Cole sported a pair of custom Harvard Converse sneakers and a silver unicorn charm on her tassel.
“We’re trying not to cry,” she said.
Isabella Shaw zipped up her black gown and adjusted her mortarboard on the Widener steps as her family, who had driven up from Cape Cod, waited to take photographs. The Harvard College senior from Yarmouth completed her studies (with a concentration in neuroscience) in an off-campus apartment nearby. Wearing a string of pearls that had belonged to her grandmother, who passed away a little more than a year ago, Shaw felt mixed emotions in the early hours of the day.
“It’s exciting, but I wish I was with my friends in [Kirkland] House, and we were graduating together,” she said.
Sophie Grais, Massiel Leiva, Stephany Bai, and Gigi Kisela bonded when they first met as section mates three years ago at the start of their time at Harvard Law School (HLS). The four women gathered on the steps of Widener Library to take photos and celebrate for a few moments before watching the virtual ceremonies. All dressed in white beneath their robes, they said they were grateful for one another despite the tumultuous last 15 months.
“It feels like this is a really nice way to celebrate,” said Grais, who planned to begin studying for the bar exam after festivities.
Added Bai: “I’m glad I get to spend it with my friends. It would have been so different without community.”
The steps of Memorial Church offered a shady viewing location for graduates and their loved ones to watch the livestreamed celebration on their laptops. Alexandra Kozak and Vardhan Mehta of the Graduate School of Design sat with Kozak’s parents, who flew in from Cleveland to help celebrate.
Mehta’s parents live in his hometown of Indore, India, and were unable to travel due to that country’s COVID-19 emergency. Despite the difficult circumstances, Mehta said, “We should not let the pandemic stand in the way” of marking the meaningful occasion.
“When we came here, I think all of us had high expectations for the experience, but also ourselves as graduates from the programs that we attended,” said Mehta. “With all the opportunities that we’ve all been able to receive at Harvard and beyond, I think being grateful is the best tool that we have.”
“Three of our four semesters at the GSD have been virtual, and we had a lot of support from the faculty and our friends in the program,” said Kozak. “That was really helpful in being able to deal with everything and make sense of graduating. It was tough, but there were so many joyous moments.”
Around the corner, College friends and off-campus roommates Emily Malpass ’21 and Miu Kumakura ’21 watched ceremonies with their families on a shared screen.
“I’m grateful that we get to have our families here, because graduation for me is always more for the family,” said Kumakura, a government concentrator whose family is originally from Tokyo but also lives in New York. “Before, I wasn’t fully present in the graduation mindset, but having them here feels more momentous.”
Malpass and Kumakura were members of different Houses (Adams and Dunster, respectively) but moved into a Cambridge apartment with a third roommate for senior year. They relished the chance to spend quality time on campus and take in the “magic” of their Harvard experience.
“When I first toured Harvard right after I got accepted, I couldn’t stop saying how special it felt to be here,” said Malpass, a social studies concentrator also from New York. “My mom said, ‘Oh, it’ll wear off,’ and four years later, basically in the exact same spot, I still feel it. I hope I never forget that magic.”
Newly minted Ph.D.s Karen Shen (GSAS), Holly Dykstra (HKS), and Edmund Flanigan (GSAS) also got into the graduation spirit on the patio of Memorial Church.
Dressed in full robed regalia, the group felt it was “important to put on the clothes and encode the experience,” said Shen.
“We came here today to make it feel real,” added Dykstra. “I have been working on my Ph.D. for seven years, which is most of my 20s, so it’s really nice to have a day to commemorate, take a step back, celebrate all the work we’ve done, and realize what a big accomplishment it is for all of us.”
While Dykstra, Shen, and Flanigan marked the end of a long chapter, HLS graduate Carolina Rocha was marking a different occasion: her first Harvard visit.
Rocha is from Uruguay and worked on her yearlong L.L.M. degree while living in Barcelona and Mexico City. Her family and boyfriend met her in Cambridge to wander the campus, shop in the Square, and soak up some of the in-person experience she missed.
“I’m sad in the sense that I couldn’t live the campus experience this year. But I’m so happy to celebrate here, and I’m privileged because my family is here with me,” said Rocha as she made her way across the Science Center Plaza.
“I met a lot of great professors in my program,” she added. “But my advice to other students is to make friends because they will be friends for the rest of our lives.”