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HGSE Welcome Day Kicks Off Academic Year

HGSE welcomes its new class with a daylong orientation and Foundations preparation
HGSE Welcome Day 2023 at Sanders Theatre
Dean Bridget Long welcomes students to Sanders Theatre
Photo: Jill Anderson

More than 600 students gathered on Wednesday as the Harvard Graduate School of Education welcomed its incoming class to Cambridge for the first time. The master’s students filled Sanders Theatre at Harvard’s historic Memorial Hall for HGSE Welcome Day, the ceremonial start of their academic year at HGSE.

Dean Bridget Terry Long welcomed the cohort with an opening speech that highlighted the impressive accomplishments of those in the room, and the high hopes for what can be achieved while at HGSE and in the years to come. Long urged the new students to remember why they applied to HGSE and ensured them they belong, regardless of any doubts or nerves about the challenging year ahead.

“Many of you are motivated by the promise of what education could be and the unfortunate reality of what it actually is for too many students. There are gaps in opportunity and success at all levels,” said Long. “In past years I’ve told new cohorts of students to remember who isn’t here. And I implore you to do the same. You didn’t come to HGSE just to get an education for yourself, but to improve the lives of those who can’t be here. I’m sure you think of people and communities from which you came who are depending on what you will learn and how you will grow and the ways that will benefit us all. “

The new cohort was given friendly warnings about unfriendly turkeys that may lurk on campus, and told not to fret about all the acronyms that make up the programs and concepts they will cover in the coming months. It was a day filled with nervous, excited energy from students and reassuring optimism from the faculty and staff on stage.

Students laughed nervously as a board game-like roadmap for their educational journey was displayed on the screen above the stage. A ‘You Are Here’ star designated their current location, about to start their Foundations courses, with various semesters and learning opportunities ahead before commencement celebrations in the spring. Faculty and staff assured the crowd they were ready to provide support in the daunting challenges ahead, and despite the work ahead the excitement of that path’s potential won out against intimidation.

Professor Monica Higgins asked the students to open the envelopes they had been given when the entered Memorial Hall and write answers to several questions on the cards inside, including what they’re excited about learning and why they came to HGSE in the first place. Higgins then asked them to share their answers with their neighbors, and excited chatter instantly echoed around the historic theater as strangers became classmates for the first time.

Building on the online Foundation course, How People Learn, the weeks ahead will feature extensive learning centered around the remaining three Foundations — Leading Change; Evidence; and Equity and Opportunity. Welcome Day featured a brief introduction to Foundations, with afternoon breakout sessions featuring tips on how to connect with faculty, be a good citizen at HGSE, and engage more directly with classmates. An alumni panel in Sanders Hall featured four HGSE master’s graduates — Nam Nguyen, LDIT'22; Erin Collins, ELOE'22; Vita Solorio-Fielder, HDE'22; and Andrew Epifanio, EPA’22 — offering advice on how to make the most of their time in the program.

“There will be times where you’re feeling overwhelmed. And it’s important to remember that it’s completely normal, it happens to everyone,” said Epifanio, who like others on the panel advocated for finding a support system among their classmates, teachers and HGSE staff. “It’s important to show yourself some compassion. As you go through this program you’re going to have those moments and it’s important to surround yourself with people who will support you through those times.”

Several times the same reminder echoed through Sanders Hall from various voices: Each student will go on a different journey over the next year, and the paths taken and lessons learned are not meant to be identical.

“We know not everybody is the same, and shouldn’t be the same. As practitioners we celebrate that, but we often don’t give ourselves that same kindness,” said Collins. “Don’t make the barometer of your success and your journey here somebody else’s success and their journey.”

Still, the basis of that journey — the Foundations classes HGSE students will engage in this month — offers an important starting point for every student.

“We do have a vision of education as a profession that has rigorous bases that every single education professional ought to be able to rely on and have the dispositions for,” said Professor Meira Levinson, noting that professions like law and business have similarly universal expectations. Foundations courses are the establishment of that basis at HGSE, and Levinson laid out a bold hope for the cohort and the school’s larger “vision of education.”

“Our goal is to help prepare you as an educator and for your career in education and then to enable you to be the beacon to all other aspiring professionals and educators,” said Levinson.


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