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Remote but Connected, HGSE Welcomes Incoming Class

Kicking off an unprecedented year, Orientation 2020 reinforces the timeless values of learning in community — and the need to meet the critical challenges of education.
Orientation 2020

Student-Alumni Regional Chats were a new feature for Orientation this year. Organized by the Offices of Development & Alumni Relations (DAR) and Student Affairs (OSA) at HGSE, these virtual meetups brought together students from 62 different countries and 47 states with alumni in 10 different regions. Accommodating the different time zone changes was no easy feat, but HGSE provides incoming students an opportunity to ask questions, share experiences, and learn from the HGSE alumni community.

“I am your community” — these words echoed throughout the opening of HGSE’s orientation ceremony as students from all over the globe introduced themselves to their classmates in a welcome video shown today, kicking off a week of virtual activities to celebrate the beginning of a most unusual year at the Ed School. As a significantly diverse and experienced class, this entering cohort of HGSE students looked forward to building connections across 62 different countries and 47 states including Washington, D.C. as they logged in to their computers.

In her opening remarks, Dean Bridget Long warmly welcomed all of them, acknowledged these unprecedented circumstances and assured students that not only was she confident that they would rise to the challenge but also that they belonged at HGSE.

“The last five months have been tumultuous to say the least,” opened Long, “We have all shared uncertainty, fear, anger, and disappointment, but we come together today to start afresh, to begin something new.”

Long underscored that though this new class may be separated by distance, the students were united by an ability to tackle challenges, to make the most of opportunities, their imagination, work ethic, and, above all else, a passion for improving education — even in unprecedented times.

She urged incoming students to bring their full selves with them into their classes and other activities, to introduce themselves on social media with the hashtag #IAmHGSE, and to show their HGSE spirit wherever in the world they may be with their HGSE t-shirts.

Reflecting on HGSE’s past 100 years as a school, Long remarked that its impact — and its essence — resonates far beyond the campus's location along Appian Way in Cambridge. “HGSE is more than a spot on a map,” she said, observing that now, more than ever, is it necessary for the educators who make up the HGSE community to engage broadly with the world around them.

“Be assured, you belong as part of this community, and I look forward to learning what you bring with you. Students, families, colleagues, leaders, and communities — are desperate for solutions. And I am optimistic because of all of you. So let’s see what we can do to improve education and our world — together,” Long said.

Following the opening remarks, Associate Dean of Enrollment Maritza Hernandez reminded the incoming class that even in the midst of tremendous challenges, there are opportunities for learning and growth. She advised students to take advantage not only of the opportunity of the great expertise and cutting-edge research at HGSE but to also think about their own goals and beliefs. “This academic year is an opportunity to reimagine, to be brave, to challenge yourselves,” Hernandez said.

Professor Andrew Ho, recipient of the 2020 Morningstar Family Teaching Award, also acknowledged that this year would provide students with challenges but that, together, this group of students and faculty would connect to form friendships, collaborations, and memories. “These five-by-five zoom grids on our monitors — they expand what Harvard means, what Harvard is, far and wide to your bedrooms and kitchen tables around the world,” Ho said. “You are at Harvard now. We are at Harvard together.”

For the rest of the week, students will have time to build their Harvard community as they connect with their cohorts and get to know their fellow students in synchronous meeting sessions. They will also be able to view prerecorded faculty presentations about their cutting-edge research and begin to lay the groundwork for how they can pursue their own research interests.

Video by Elio Pajares