It was a day of firsts.
Harvard President Claudine Gay welcomed the Class of 2027 and exhorted them to lean into the journey that brought them to the present moment and gear up for the transformations that await them in the next four years.
“Let your joy and your pride win out,” said Gay, Ph.D. ’98, who spoke at Tercentenary Theatre on Monday afternoon in the annual Convocation ceremony, officially marking the entry of first-year students into the Harvard community. “Each of you deserves it. Each of you has earned it. Each of you belongs here.
“Each of you will make Harvard stronger and better by being who you are, by sharing your perspective, and by contributing to our mission,” she said. “I know this because I have seen it myself. Year after year, as a faculty member, I witnessed extraordinary transformations in students, profound shifts in understanding and awareness across every dimension of being.”
Yesterday was also an extra special Convocation for Gay, marking her first as president of Harvard. Gay succeeded Larry Bacow, who stepped down in June, after serving as Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 2018. Gay, who was also Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government and a professor of African and African-American studies, urged the students to be prepared to overcome feelings of self-doubt that may arise at times during their undergraduate years.
She noted such insecurities are difficult to avoid, recounting an incident that took place when she was a child. At the age of 11 she began to feel painfully “insufficient” because she lacked a middle name. She feared being thus incomplete might somehow preclude her from “the possibility of reinvention.” When Gay turned to her parents for advice, they simply responded: “Your name is enough.”
“I turned those four words over in my mind, and they have stayed with me all these years, a powerful statement about my inheritance, my identity, and my capacity,” said Gay. “Sometimes, even now, even as president, when I am pushing a pen across paper and signing my name, those four words surface in my mind.”
“At some point between now and Commencement — probably at several points between now and your Commencement — you will feel insufficient. Despite knowing better, you will feel as if everyone around you knows exactly what is going on, as if everyone around you understands something you do not, sees something that you do not. When that happens, I hope you remember this story — and my parents’ wisdom.”
In closing Gay asked students to be willing to be transformed by Harvard by exploring who they are and who they want to become. “You have been given a name, and that is all that you need, but from this day forward you will make a name for yourself,” she said.
“Who can you be? Who will you be?’ said Gay. “These are the questions that you will consider alongside your classmates; in conversation with faculty, proctors, tutors, and deans; and in connection to your own learning and scholarship.