Tercentenary Theatre.

An estimated 8,800 graduates from Classes 2020 and 2021 registered for Sunday’s Commencement, enough to fill Tercentenary Theatre.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Many happy returns

long read

In-person Commencement gives Classes of ’20 and ’21 a chance to reconnect, joyfully, and reflect on years of friendship, growth

Harvard Yard was the scene of countless reunions on Sunday, as members of the Classes of 2020 and 2021, many accompanied by parents and siblings, came together to celebrate in-person Commencement more than two years after the pandemic abruptly altered life and learning at the University.

Playing catch-up

On a glorious Sunday morning, Madeleine Snow ’20, Miranda Mize Escurra ’20, and Rocket Claman ’21 were busy taking selfies as they waited for their turn to march to Tercentenary Theatre to celebrate their graduation in person.

The moment was a long time coming.

Like many of their classmates, Snow, Mize Escurra, and Claman were happy to be back on campus. “It’s wonderful getting to reunite with my friends, roommates, and classmates, and feel the energy of Harvard again,” said Snow, a psychology concentrator with a secondary in Theater, Dance, & Media.

Mize Escurra, a neurobiology concentrator with a secondary in TDM, said she had a hard time when her class had to leave campus in March 2020, but she was grateful for the opportunity to mark with friends their shared achievement.

Madeleine Snow ’20, Miranda Mize Escurra ’20, and Rocket Claman ’21

Madeleine Snow ’20 (from left), Miranda Mize Escurra ’20, and Rocket Claman ’21. Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard University

“My dream was always to go to Harvard, and to not get to celebrate the ending of that journey with the people that had become my closest friends was heartbreaking and really took away from that experience,” said Mize Escurra, who is applying to medical school. “It’s so special for us to come together to celebrate. It gives us a sense of closure that all of us needed.”

For Claman, a history and literature concentrator with a secondary in studies of women, gender and sexuality, coming back to campus offered the chance to catch up with friends.

“Some people you come back and after a year or two years they look exactly the same, and others you barely recognize them,” said Claman, who works in theater and shares an apartment with Mize Escurra in Boston. “It’s been really exciting to get to reunite with people and hear where they are at in life and see how they’ve grown and changed but also remained the same.”

The way we were

For a group of former Mather House residents, the return to campus inspired mixed feelings — most of them welcome.

“Coming back with everyone here adds a weird sort of energy with a lot of happiness and a lot of pride,” said Hakeem Angulu ’20, a joint concentrator in computer science and statistics who now works as a software engineer for Google. “It’s a lot of mixed feelings, but overall, I’m very happy.”

Hakeem Aglulu, (from left) Amadou Camara, Ethan Robert McCollister, and Brandon Palacios,

Former Winthrop House residents — Hakeem Angulu ’20 (from left), Amadou Camara ’20, Ethan McCollister ’20, and Brandon Palacios ’21 — said being back on campus felt surreal.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Amadou Camara ’20, who concentrated in applied math with a focus in economics and computer science and a secondary in sociology, called the abrupt departure from campus in March 2020 a “crazy ending,” but he was glad to have another ending to his time at Harvard.

“It’s good to be back,” said Camara. “It’s good to see our friends, reminisce with them, and walk on the paths that we walked before. And it’s specially good to have that all come to an end and put a bow on it after two years.”

Ethan McCollister ’20, a social studies concentrator, echoed the sentiment. “Part of the Harvard experience is the traditionality of everything that happens here,” said McCollister. “It has been two years and a lot of people weren’t sure if this event was going to happen. But now here we are and it provides a good moment of finality to our college careers.”

Brandon Palacios ’21, who studied neuroscience with a secondary in economics, appreciated the time-travel component of the ceremony. “My class ended up missing a whole senior year,” said Palacios. “Maybe that is a feeling I’ll never be able to get over, but this provides some sort of closure. It’s great to see everybody. I felt everyone was the same. All the things felt the same. Even though people are more grown now and more mature, the personalities are still there, and the dynamics are still there. It’s just great to be around everybody and feel the way it used to be, which is really good.”

‘Happiness all around’

Among the many proud parents who attended Sunday’s ceremony was Nobuhle Zwane, who traveled from her native South Africa to enjoy the moment with her son, Mfundo Radebe ’20.

A national debate champion in his home country, Radebe received a full scholarship to study at Harvard. He graduated with concentrations in African Studies and economics.

“Mfundo was always a bright student and a young ambitious man,” his mother said.

A professional nurse, Zwane made her first trip overseas to attend the ceremony. She was accompanied by her daughters, Mpilwenhle, 6 years old, and Esihle, 9. (Work responsibilities kept her husband at home.) Zwane was filled with pride as she spoke of her son, who works for a management consulting company in Boston. The family lives in Umlazi, South Africa’s fourth-largest township.Of the Sunday ceremony, Zwane said she was impressed by the crowd, the pomp, the music, and the rituals. “We saw the graduation on the screen in 2020, but it is not the same. Emotions aren’t just the same. I couldn’t be happier now. It’s happiness all around.”

Nobuhle Zwane

Nobuhle Zwane traveled from her native South Africa to join her son, Mfundo Radebe ’20, for his graduation. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard University

Living the dream

Santiago Aurelio Mota Sosa, an architect from Mexico City, was thrilled to celebrate his second master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design at Sunday’s Commencement.

Mota, who graduated with a master’s in design studies in energy and environment in 2020, earned a master’s in design engineering two years before.

“I was able to enjoy the full graduation experience in 2018, but this one is very special,” said Mota, who was accompanied by his wife, Danniely Staback Rodriguez, and his parents, who traveled from Mexico for the occasion. “I’m so happy.”

Mota’s parents, Humberto Epifanio Aurelio Mota Ramos and Patricia Sosa, were excited to share the joy. It was their first time at Harvard, and they marveled at the splendor of the ceremony and the buildings in the Yard.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Sosa. “Being here at this moment makes me recall of the time when he was a little boy. We’re grateful and proud to be here to accompany him and celebrate in person with him.”

Santiago Aurelio Mota Sosa with his wife, Danniely Staback Rodríguez, traveled from Mexico City.

An architect in Mexico City, Santiago Aurelio Mota Sosa was joined by his wife, Danniely Staback Rodríguez (pictured), and his parents.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Second chance at closure

Emily Zhu ’20, Maxwell Ho ’21, and Noah DiAntonio ’21, walking together in the Eliot House procession in the Old Yard a little after 7 a.m. on Sunday, had worried the day might never arrive.

“I think a lot of people were very hopeful that it would happen, but until they released the announcement, it was hard to say for sure,” Zhu said. “I was always like, maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t.”

DiAntonio, whose parents and brother traveled from St. Louis for the celebration, said,

“There’s something very fun about us all being together, all dressed up in a way that was not at all the same when we were graduating at home.”

Ho, who will start medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, in the fall, said one thing that surprised him about his virtual ceremony was the closure he took from it. “I felt very complete, surprisingly,” he said. Even so, returning to campus “feels reinvigorating.”

Noah DiAntonio (from left) Emily Zhu, and Maxwell Ho,

Even though they’ve gotten on with their lives, Noah DiAntonio (from left), Emily Zhu, and Maxwell Ho said they were happy to be back together.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Supportive siblings

Nicole and Jane West came to Harvard Yard on Sunday to be with their sister, Jillian, who received a master’s degree from the Harvard Extension School in the spring of 2020.

“She was really excited,” Nicole said. “She’s not one to celebrate herself so we’re really glad that this day is here so that we can celebrate her.”

Nicole and Jane West.

Nicole and Jane West came to Harvard Yard Sunday morning to support their sister, Jillian West, who received a master’s degree from the Harvard Extension School.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“She’s supported both of us for so many years,” Lucy added, “so it’s amazing to be able to be there and support her.”

One sister lives in Boston, the other in Western Massachusetts. They had heard plenty about the Yard over the years, but were excited to get an up-close view. Their impression: It’s big. “I’ve heard so many things about the Harvard graduation, having lived here for years, but to finally experience it is pretty cool,” Lucy said.

Well-rounded dentist

Ryan Lisann.

Ryan Lisann celebrated degrees from School of Dental Medicine and the Ed School. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard University

Ryan Lisann, who in the spring of 2020 delivered the student address for the Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s virtual ceremonies from his Central Square apartment, spent his first year after graduating back in the (virtual) classroom, this time as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Lisann wants to use insights from his master’s degree in education to enhance dental prevention and help people keep their teeth. “I’m definitely passionate about the importance of prevention in dentistry. I’d rather be cleaning teeth than pulling teeth.”

Since finishing his studies in education, Lisann has been working as a pediatric dental resident at Boston Children’s Hospital, helping children who have specialized medical or behavioral issues. “That’s been quite a change of pace from the training that I had at Harvard Dental, with lots of trauma, lots of kids with complex syndromes,” Lisann said. “I’m definitely getting my reps in — it’s very high volume.”

This time was better

There were pajamas and waffles for first-gen student Jonathan Garzon’s first graduation, in May 2021.

The Winthrop House resident and neuroscience concentrator admitted he found the virtual experience “underwhelming,” so as soon as he heard about the University’s plans for an in-person ceremony, he was in. “I knew so many people that were in the same boat as me — we were all going to come back here. I really wanted to relive these moments with them.”

Garzon’s parents, Lucia and Victor, accompanied him to Cambridge for the celebration, which exceeded expectations.

“I thought it would be overwhelming and very quickly it stopped being overwhelming and started being something that I want to celebrate and rejoice in,” Garzon said. “I really like this. I’m really glad we’re all here. I feel like I’m getting, finally, a sense of closure from Harvard.”

Jonathan Garzon

“I’m really glad we’re all here. I feel like I’m getting, finally, a sense of closure from Harvard,” said Jonathan Garzon.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

They made it

For some, the decision to attend Sunday’s celebration was last-minute. Camilo Sanchez ’20, Muhammad Ahmad ’21, and Jay Gopalan ’20 booked tickets late, and Ahmad even had to scramble to find the proper garb. (Luckily, the Coop came through.)

Camilo Sanchez ’20, Mohammad Ahmad ’21, and Jay Goplan ’20

A last-minute decision to attend Commencement had Camilo Sanchez ’20 (from left), Mohammad Ahmad ’21, and Jay Goplan ’20 scrambling to find the proper garb.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

The three have been busy. Ahmad has been working as a data scientist at a startup focused on augmented reality products. Sanchez, meanwhile, has taken a year off his doctoral studies in physics at the University of Toronto to start an app that connects high school students with undergrads at universities where they might apply. Gopalan has already worked at and quit a job as a quantitative trader in favor of an education startup that has built a platform to connect high school students with mentors for project-based learning.

Despite their hastily arranged return trip, the three enjoyed the chance to get together for what one described as “their two-year reunion” — even if it did feel just a bit unreal. “It feels like dress-up,” Ahmad said, “like those role-play battles where you dress up like the old soldiers and play it out again.”

So much to talk about

Under a tent in the Barker Center courtyard and in its wood-paneled Thompson Room on Sunday, recent alumni from the humanities caught up with beloved professors, reunited with old study partners, and met each other’s loved ones.

The event celebrated 2020 and 2021 graduates in English, Philosophy, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Study of Religion, and History & Literature and was co-organized by Lauren Kaminsky, director of studies and associate senior lecturer in the Committee on Degrees in History & Literature, and Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Deidre Lynch.

The celebratory atmosphere felt like a reunion and a graduation rolled into one, said Isaiah Johnson ’20, who concentrated in history and literature and lives in Brighton.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet that we’re celebrating graduation, but it’s been really nice making up for lost time,” said Tori Scott, a 2020 graduate who concentrated in philosophy and government and lives in Rhode Island. “It will be good to see some professors and classmates that I wouldn’t have seen that much otherwise.”

Anna Fitzgerald ’20 was similarly struck by the opportunity to both mark the end of a Harvard career and reunite with those who made it special. Fitzgerald moved to San Diego two years ago and was thrilled to return to her favorite campus spot: the Barker Center Café.

“Harvard was such a home for me, so I’m very happy to be back,” the English concentrator said. “The really surprising part of the weekend was that unlike a regular graduation, where you’re saying a lot of goodbyes, this really did feel like reunion because of getting to reconnect with people that I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time. It was lovely just to get to check in and see them really killing it, doing what they love out in the real world as adults.”