Campus & Community

‘The only way through is with’

Courtney B. Vance ’82 delivers remarks during Alumni Day.

Photos by Scott Eisen

5 min read

Harvard Alumni Day speakers highlight importance of connection to University community amid times of global discord

A collection of stories covering Harvard University’s 373rd Commencement.

Sunny skies greeted the thousands of alumni who gathered in Tercentenary Theatre last Friday to take part in Harvard Alumni Day — an annual event celebrating alumni community, citizenship, and impact.

Coinciding with Harvard and Radcliffe class reunions and other alumni programs, the day’s events included musical performances, awarding of the Harvard Medals, and a keynote address by award-winning actor, producer, and writer Courtney B. Vance ’82.

The program kicked off with the traditional alumni parade from the Old Yard to Tercentenary Theatre, this year led by Emmy-nominated TV host, writer, comedian, and commentator Baratunde Thurston ’99, the 2024 chief marshal of alumni, and the four oldest alumni in attendance — Bert Huberman ’44, Henry Ashworth ’44, George Post ’45, and Linda Black ’51.

The program was called to order by 2023–24 Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) President Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06, who shared reflections from his term as president, acknowledging that the past year has been rocky for Harvard and the alumni community amid the global strife over the war in the Middle East.

Chief marshal Baratunde Thurston ’99 (in top hat).

“The only way through is with,” he said, noting the importance of working with one another to stay connected and engaged with the Harvard community — especially during times of disagreement.

Citing his undergraduate years at Harvard as the first time he felt he could truly be himself, Moore spoke of “real community,” which he described as a “safe place” where people “know they will be respected and valued regardless of their perspective and experiences.” He pointed to genuine curiosity, open dialogue, and an open mind as key building blocks in establishing real community.

Moore also introduced incoming HAA President Moitri Chowdhury Savard ’93, calling her an “impactful, courageous, and gracious leader.” A family physician, Savard is the first person of South Asian descent to serve as alumni president.

Sarah Karmon, associate vice president and executive director of the HAA, expressed her gratitude for the support and contributions of all alumni volunteers, including the Harvard and Radcliffe college reunion chairs, who oversaw the planning of 14 celebrations for more than 10,000 alumni and guests. She also commended the Class of 1989, who set a new fundraising record for 35th reunions.

Interim President Alan M. Garber ’76, Ph.D. ’82, recognized what a difficult year it has been for the Harvard community but also noted how grateful he is for “what usually happens here” — the learning, research, innovation, and innumerable ways Harvard expands the boundaries of knowledge to “make the world a better place” — with this year being no exception. Despite the challenging circumstances of these last months, Garber said, “Harvard never stopped humming with the energy of possibility.”

For the Harvard community to emerge “better and stronger,” Garber noted the urgency of thinking “creatively and ambitiously” about expanding efforts to foster a culture of civility, respect, and reasoned debate.

He pointed to the University’s recent decision to issue public statements only on issues that affect its core functions — an approach he said is “intended to preserve open inquiry and academic freedom by making it easier for all members of the community to express their views.”

Garber concluded by sharing his gratitude for members of the alumni community, calling them “islands of calm through change and through storm.”

That assessment could very well be applied to the interim president himself, as his speech was briefly delayed when an apparent animal-rights protester unaffiliated with the University accosted him on his way to the podium.Despite the interruption, Garber continued with his remarks and the program. Moore later reflected on Garber’s “remarkable demonstration of composure” and his “words filled with insight and appreciation for this brilliant alum community.”

Following a brief musical interlude by beatboxer Eliot Min ’23 and cellist Eugene Ye ’25, Garber presented this year’s Harvard Medals to Scott A. Abell ’72, former Harvard executive vice president Katherine N. Lapp, and M. Lee Pelton, Ph.D. ’84, who were recognized for their extraordinary service to the University.

Vance, an award-winning actor who serves as chair of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, began a sweeping keynote address with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

Vance, who also co-founded Bassett Vance Productions with his wife, Angela Bassett, touched on a number of difficult global issues, noting what a challenging time it is, especially for young people who may be struggling with reconciling their idealism with a sobering understanding of the world.

The author of “The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaiming Their Power,” Vance spotlighted the importance of mental health, sharing his family’s own struggles, and urged the audience to “make choices in this short time we have here on this earth that lift up” others.

He ended by pressing those in attendance to “make room for the tender heart” as a way to counteract cynicism. 

Having sung “Radcliffe, Now We Rise to Greet Thee” earlier in the program, the audience once again joined alumni members of the Harvard University Choir, Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, Radcliffe Choral Society, and Harvard Glee Club to sing “Fair Harvard” before gathering with friends old and new for the all-alumni Yard Party.

View the livestream of the Harvard Alumni Day program.