Commencement day for many is bittersweet, but especially at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. For many of the 744 graduates, Commencement marks the end of a life-changing experience on Appian Way. The same can be said for Dean Kathleen McCartney, who joined graduates, along with their families and friends, to bid farewell to HGSE today.
“I love this school and this community beyond reason,” she said, during the Commencement Ceremony in Radcliffe Yard.
Earlier in the day, as sun shined and temperatures began to rise, HGSE graduates gathered with composition notebooks in hand at the Tercentenary Theater in Harvard Yard for the annual morning commencement exercises where their degrees were officially conferred.
However, back at Radcliffe Yard, under the pitched white tents is where HGSE 2013 commencement ceremonies gave the Ed School’s 660 Ed.M. graduates, 13 C.A.S. graduates, 21 Ed.L.D. graduates, and 50 Ed.D. graduates, an opportunity to fully celebrate.
In her eighth commencement speech, McCartney shared her personal journey to HGSE, reflecting on an allegory, credited to Chinese philosopher Lau-tzu, called “The Tale of the Fortunate Farmer.” The story — which McCartney credits for changing how she views events in life — is about a farmer whose only horse runs away just to return the next day with several more horses. When his neighbor suggests that the experience was bad news and bad luck, the farmer simply replies that it could be bad news or good news either way. When the farmer’s son rides a wild horse and breaks his leg, the neighbor again comments on the farmer’s misfortunes. The farmer still declares it neither good or bad.
“This story has many interpretations. For some, it means that nothing is good or bad, and that we should reserve judgment,” she said. “For others, it signifies that we have the ability to construct an event as good or bad. For me, it means that one can always choose happiness, always choose optimism, always choose goodness.”
She told the students of a job prior to HGSE that she really wanted and didn’t get. “I took this failure hard,” she said. A year later, she met Professor Catherine Snow, who wound up appointing her at the Ed School. Now, 13 years later, McCartney noted how that prior rejection was good news.
“Challenge is a universal life experience. All of you will encounter moments in your careers that feel like loss, difficulty, or struggle. But each of us decides the way forward,” she said, sharing noteworthy individuals who had failed and gone on to greater successes like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Tina Fey, and Sandra Day O’Connor. The hope in sharing such a story is for graduates to find what is truly good for them when they don’t get what they want or what they think they will want.
McCartney said her time at HGSE will have been good news.
“I know this because alumni tell me how much this place continues to mean to them long after they have gone,” McCartney said. “One alumnus, who works elsewhere at Harvard, told me how wistful he feels whenever he finds himself walking down Appian Way. I know I will feel the same when I return here.”
Following her speech, McCartney invited all the graduates to take the stage and accept their diplomas. Students – many with babies in graduation regalia – shuffled across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Then, in keeping with McCartney’s traditional farewell to graduates, she asked them to stand, and said: “If you have ever been a teacher, you know that it is very hard to say goodbye to your students. But we know that you leave us to do good work, important work. We wish you success and fulfillment.Once again, let’s applaud the 2013 graduating class of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”
For Ed.L.D. graduates – part of the first cohort to receive the new education degree – Commencement seemed surreal.
“It’s been an awesome week and the culmination of a lot of hard work for all of us,” said Joe Doctor, Ed.L.D.’13. Doctor shared that in the past three years it was easy to keep the end in sight because the date was firmly on the academic calendar. As he heads off to a position at the National Board of Teaching Standards, he shared one final thought: “It’s amazing that [HGSE] pulled [the Ed.L.D. Program] off, and it’s amazing to be part of the first cohort.”