Information For:

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

News & Events

HGSE Confers Degrees on 661 Students

While the previous day’s unseasonably cool temperatures kept hundreds of students and their families shivering under a tent in Radcliffe Yard during Convocation, Thursday’s sunny skies — matched with a rise of nearly 15-degrees — made for a picture perfect graduation.

For Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan, in his first commencement address since joining the school in August, his remarks reflected back to his last graduation address delivered in high school. Recalling that time, Ryan joked of barely being able to reach the podium as he shared a series of “famous and not-so-famous quotations” on time, strung together from Bartlett’s Book of Quotations.

On this occasion, Ryan said he would talk again about time, but also “about kindness, courage, and death.” Reflecting on the last 12 months, he recalled the speech he delivered to students in August where he asked them to “ask not just why, but why not.”

“I’d like to end the year like we began it, by taking one more moment to offer a little advice,” Ryan said. “You have spent your time here preparing to transform education in ways large and small, and I hope and trust you feel prepared and inspired for that task, because, like I said at the beginning of the year, the world needs you. You may be worried about what lies ahead for you professionally, but don’t fret. You are the luckiest graduates in the entire university, because you are going to work in education, and there is no higher calling, no more rewarding or meaningful field.”

"You are the luckiest graduates in the entire university, because you are going to work in education, and there is no higher calling, no more rewarding or meaningful field.”

In all, 661 graduates received degrees, including 44 from the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Program, 28 from the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program, 13 from the Certificate of Advanced Study (C.A.S.) Program, and 576 from the Master of Education (Ed.M.) Program. As part of today’s ceremony, Ryan also acknowledged the retirement of veteran professors Richard Elmore, Susan Moore Johnson, Richard Murnane, and John Willett. “Each of you dedicated your wisdom, wit, and passion to this place,” he said, “and you leave it better than you found it because of your presence.”

Like in his high school graduation speech, Ryan did focus on the discussion of time once again, but not through a series of quotes. Instead, he advised students to remain mindful of how their time is spent, whether working, passing time with friends or family, or creating time to play hooky or to do the unexpected.

“You are all going off to do truly noble and important work, indeed the most important work that can be done it today’s world,” said Ryan. “It is work that offers unparalleled opportunities for fulfillment and satisfaction, and for that reason, as I’ve said, you are incredibly fortunate. You have come from all across the country and the globe and will spread, like a giant HGSE diaspora, to all corners of the world.

“But in my view the importance of your work does not fully satisfy your obligation to be kind. You need to take time to be kind on a daily basis. That means paying attention to those around you who are in need. Noticing who is having a hard time. Remembering who has a birthday.... Taking time to ask your students, their parents, your colleagues, not just how are you, but are you ok? Taking time to say in word and deed to those around you: I see you. You are sometimes going to feel too rushed to lend a hand to someone who cannot in turn help you. Resist that impulse and take that time. I’ve been reading about what makes people happy, and one of the things that consistently makes people happy is doing something kind for others. So if you think about it, it is actually in your self-interest to be kind,” said Ryan.

Ryan also recalled a phone call from his father 17 years ago, when he and his wife, Katie, were asked to join him for a day at the Jersey Shore. Despite it being a work day for both, Ryan said they made the decision to take part in the unplanned beach day, which turned out to be the last time he saw his father before his unexpected passing. “I wouldn’t trade anything for that day I spent with him,” he said.

As she sat in the front row of the ceremonies, Mandi Holmes, Ed.M.’14, reflected on her past year in the International Education Policy Program, noting how quickly the time had passed since her studies began.

“It is hard to believe it’s over,” said Holmes, a recipient of the Presidential Management Fellowship, “but it was such a great opportunity to work under professors who are so knowledgeable and willing to share … as well as [with] so many knowledgeable colleagues.”