Watch the presentation of the diplomas and certificates:
Smiles and cheers burst across Radcliffe Yard at Thursday’s commencement ceremony, celebrating not only the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s newest graduates, but also the people and communities who brought the graduates to this moment — and who the graduates will go on to uplift throughout their future careers.
“Remembering who isn’t here — those who are shut out from the opportunities you have enjoyed — can help guide your steps for years to come,” advised Dean Bridget Terry Long in her first commencement address as dean of HGSE.
For the 740 graduates receiving degrees, this message helped bolster the feeling that they are ready and eager to go out and change the world. Eighteen have received a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), 25 have received a Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.), 16 have received a Certificate of Advanced Study (C.A.S.) in School Counseling, and 681 have received a Master of Education (Ed.M.).
These graduates are now embarking on careers in every sector of education, as teachers, counselors, principals, superintendents, researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, and program designers. They will continue their work as advocates for learners at every stage of life — infants and preschoolers, elementary schoolers and high schoolers, college applicants and job seekers, adult students and parents, and even teachers themselves.
The theme of gratitude for and service toward others was ubiquitous throughout Long’s speech. She began with a note of thanks toward the family and friends who have supported the students throughout their time at HGSE, with a special nod to the children attending the day’s ceremony. Referencing the complex history of Harvard’s power and privilege, Long also recognized the indigenous and enslaved people without whom Harvard would not have been built.
A connection between HGSE’s past and future was particularly resonant when Long recognized four longtime, influential faculty members who are retiring this year: Howard Gardner, Tom Hehir, Dan Koretz, and Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. At her words, all four received a standing ovation from their colleagues and students.
Later, when the presentation of diplomas and certificates began, dozens of graduates crossed the stage with their own children — a symbol of the future generation of learners and educators.
Long also celebrated some of this graduating class’s accomplishments. In a series of only several years — and for most, only 10 months — these students have founded nonprofits, published a book on how to make schools bully-free, run the Harvard Educational Review, served at local charities, and launched Disability Disclosed, Harvard’s first graduate student publication focused on disabilities and related topics. The students’ talents were further showcased during the ceremony when graduates LuAnn Silva, Ed.M.’19, and Henry Seton, Ed.M.’19, performed “Breathing Underwater,” written by Chris Crowhurst and Emeli Sandé.
Long’s speech offered several pieces of wisdom for the graduates on how to use their degrees not just for themselves, but for those back home and around the world who have not had the opportunity to learn at Harvard.
She asked the graduates to first think of all those who came before them, with a particularly poignant reference to her own family history. “I wish my grandmother were here today to see this ceremony,” Long said. “For a woman who only had up to a fourth-grade education, I imagine what it would be like for her to see what her granddaughter is doing today. I have a feeling that knowing smile would be on her face again — this moment being yet another confirmation that the love and sacrifices through the generations amounted to so much more than anyone could have dreamed.”
Long then asked the graduates to think of the present — the students, family, and colleagues they left behind to come to Appian Way. Many of the graduates will be returning to those communities in the coming months.
Finally, alluding to the impactful careers these graduates will go on to have, Long invited them to think of those they “have yet to meet and perhaps will never meet in person, who will be the focus of your contributions and work.”
“We have a great deal of work to do” in the field of education, said Long. She listed some of the inequities learners face — major opportunity and achievement gaps by race and socioeconomic status. In the United States, racial school segregation is growing, and fewer than half of low-income students ever obtain a bachelor’s degree; globally, hundreds of millions of children never learn to read or write.
Rather than discourage the graduates, these facts should motivate them, Long said. She ended with a blessing and a challenge that the graduates always remember to think beyond themselves, to the impact they will be able have on others. “Whatever your greatest wishes and aspirations are, I hope they are greater than you,” Long said. “You, and the person sitting next to you, working together with partners around the world, can make a real and lasting difference.”