Campus & Community

Continuing Ed Convocation is a first visit to campus for some

Harvard Extension School students and Deans pose for a group photo outside of Memorial Church before their convocation ceremony.

Photos by Scott Eisner

4 min read

‘We made it through a very difficult situation, and we all made it together’

After a two-year absence due to COVID-19, Harvard Extension School welcomed admitted degree candidates back to campus at an in-person Convocation ceremony.

The first weekend in October brought cool weather and more than 500 degree candidates — many of whom were admitted in 2020 and 2021 — to the Memorial Church. Students had the opportunity to connect in person with their classmates, many of whom had thought the chance to have their own Convocation had passed by.

In attendance were Harvard Division of Continuing Education employees Jake Doty and Joel Ramos, who are seeking masters of liberal arts degrees (A.L.M.) in digital media design. Both work in the DCE’s online course design department and were ecstatic to see their classmates at the end of a long journey. They were also thankful for a day they thought would never come.

“It feels good to be on campus for Convocation,” said Doty. “Our Convocation was originally supposed to be held in 2020. Yet today it feels oddly vindicating. We finally got here.”

Ramos echoed those sentiments. “I’m seriously grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to continue working on my studies,” he said. “I thought that my Convocation wasn’t going to happen. This is special. And to see other degree candidates here shows that we made it through a very difficult situation, and we all made it together.”

“At DCE, we know that education is a movement that has massive potential for you, your families, your communities, and the world.”

Shirley Greene, senior associate dean of student affairs

DCE Dean Nancy Coleman addressed attendees and noted in her remarks that for many, the day may have been their first visit to campus, but whether they were new to Cambridge or familiar with their surroundings, they all shared a common path.

She said the assembled degree candidates “have embraced intellectual curiosity, mental flexibility, and rigorous challenge.”

“There are certainly easier paths, perhaps quicker and maybe less expensive, but you chose to be here, at Harvard,” said Coleman. “You walked proudly through these storied gates. You have earned your way in, and we applaud you.”

On hand to listen to speakers in the Memorial Church were degree candidates who had traveled to Cambridge from the Philippines, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and throughout the U.S. Thousands more watched the ceremony via live stream.

David J. Malan speaking to students.
Sequana Blondell and Keywanne Hawkins during the Harvard Extension School Convocation

Harvard Extension School students Sequana Blondell (left) and Keywanne Hawkins joined their classmates for the Convocation at the Memorial Church.

Extension School Academic Dean Suzanne Spreadbury noted the diversity and composition of the student community, pointing out that of the admitted degree cohorts, learners came from all 50 U.S. states and territories and from as many as 90 foreign countries, including Argentina, Hungary, Korea, Madagascar, and Uganda.

More than “400 of you are men and women who are veterans of our U.S. armed forces or who are courageously serving in our active military — the largest admitted cohort of military students at the University,” she said.

David J. Malan, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science and Extension School instructor, gave an impassioned speech about how enjoyable it has been to teach unique sets of learners and that distance learning is more than just location.

“Don’t think of classes as only being online or in-person,” said Malan. “Think of them as opportunities to connect with other students.”

Cynthia Sanz, a 2021 degree candidate from Colombia pursuing her bachelor’s of liberal arts (A.L.B.), said it felt “surreal” to be on campus after such an extended absence. She encouraged other learners to become more involved on campus and the activities it offers. “We have to embrace the fact that we are Harvard students and are a part of the University,” she said.

Shirley Greene, senior associate dean of student affairs, encouraged students to feel empowered during their time at the Extension School. She told them to recognize the leaders they are, both in the classroom and in their lives, and said mentorship, innovation, and collaboration were three important prongs of their School experience. “At DCE, we know that education is a movement that has massive potential for you, your families, your communities, and the world,” said Greene.