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HGSE Honors Graduates at Convocation Ceremony

A ringing call to bravery and to action for HGSE’s graduating class

The traditions and nostalgia that mark the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s annual Convocation ceremony were joined by a ringing call to action today, as members of the graduating class were charged to deploy all their talents and passion — and to muster their bravery — to serve and to lead in a rapidly changing world.

HGSE degree candidates, faculty, friends, and family gathered for the annual ceremony in Radcliffe Yard, under skies that turned unexpectedly sunny, to hear words of inspiration as they set about pursuing the necessary mission of education.

“In the real world, success is a product of bravery, not perfection,” said Convocation speaker Reshma Saujani, calling on graduates to embrace this “paradigm-shifting” moment in history — where they stand on the cusp of a new era of automation that will “change everything about the way we live and work.” [Read the announcement of Saujani’s selection as Convocation speaker.]

“According to McKinsey, 45 percent of the tasks that people do manually today have the potential to be automated using current technology alone,” said Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that works to close the gender gap in technology. “And the pace of innovation has never been faster. That means the future is going to look nothing like the present.”

Unlike past moments of epoch-defining change, the transformation we’re now anticipating is not exclusively owned by, or driven by, men. “Women now earn the majority of all bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees,” Saujani said, and are “as close to equality as we have ever been.”

And yet women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership positions. Structural barriers abound, she noted, but there are cultural barriers, too. “In our society, we train boys to be brave — to throw caution to the wind and follow their passions. And we train girls to be perfect — to please and play it safe, to follow the rules, and to always get straight A’s.

“The result? Girls are kicking butt in the classroom, but they are falling behind in the real world,” Saujani said.

“If we don’t start teaching our girls to be brave, they are going to miss their chance to code the future in Silicon Valley, to build the future in the C-suite, and to legislate the future in Congress. And women are going to once again find themselves and their ideas on the sidelines of the revolution.”

“We can’t let that happen,” Saujani told her audience. “Nothing is more important than solving this problem. And that’s what I need you to do when you walk across the stage tomorrow and go out into the world.”

Urging graduates to join her in cultivating bravery, she said, “Don’t let our girls play it safe. Don’t let them limit themselves to the thing they think they’re best at, or the thing they think they should do. Push them to be brave. Push them to take risks. Reward them for trying.

“Let’s challenge our girls to step outside their comfort zone and tip-toe out to the very edge of their abilities.”

Faculty speaker Gretchen Brion-Meisels thanked graduates “for your commitment, for your passion, for your energy and brilliance, and for your continued belief in the power and possibility of education.”

She spoke of the opportunity to learn through disagreement, by confronting blind spots, by searching for justice, and by working toward solidarity with others. She spoke of important lessons she’s learned about the power of shifting one’s gaze away from success and toward love.

She continued, “I thank you for taking seriously the task of learning love; and I ask you to carry this learning with you, to be love, as you move out into the world beyond HGSE. I want to be clear that in asking you to be love, I am asking you to be as demanding as you are forgiving. Being love is not being sugary sweet. It is being fierce in your commitment to stand in solidarity with others.”

Student speaker Megan Red Shirt-Shaw started her talk by welcoming the audience in Lakota, her mother tongue. Reflecting on the power of complex change that one year can bring, Red Shirt-Shaw discussed the emotions — painful and strengthening — that accompanied her advocacy on behalf of Dakota Access Pipeline protestors. Reflecting on what it’s like to serve communities struggling with inequity and injustice, she said, ”Even in our grief for their and our complicated circumstances, we as their educators and allies have to show up, carrying everything we learned and dreamed here at HGSE, knowing that each and every one of us will push to change the world for the students who we love the most.”

Preparing to leave this campus community, she said, “We will always appreciate the dreamers, the light seekers, and the activists, because in them we see ourselves.” She urged graduates to always remember: “Remember the students and teachers and classmates who built you. Carry the people next to you every day, and honor this amazing opportunity that we were so privileged to be a part of.”

The complete list of Convocation honorees:

HGSE Convocation Speaker: Reshma Saujani

Convocation student speaker: Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Ed.M., Higher Education

Convocation Faculty Speaker: Gretchen Brion-Meisels

Phyllis Strimling Award: Danubia Silva, Ed.M., Human Development and Psychology

Morningstar Family Teaching Award: Karen Brennan

Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education: James Kemple, Ed.M.’86, Ed.D.’89

2017 Intellectual Contribution Award Recipients:

Commencement Marshals:

Ed.D.: Janine de Novais and Maleka Donaldson
Ed.L.D.: Annice Fisher and David Hay
C.A.S.: Erin Block
AIE: Ethan Smith
EPM: Keya Wondwossen
HEP: Alejandro Garcia Fernandez
HDP: McKinlee Covey
IEP: Corrie Sutherland
L&L: Zholl Tablante
L&T: David Rawson
MBE: Snigdha Gupta
PSP: Diana Peña
SLP: Jim Triplett
SSP: Radhika Menon
TEP: Nicholas Steinke
TIE: Ryan Lee

The 2017 Class Gift: $21,501.54 for financial aid for the class of 2018 and beyond