Harvard Portrait: Stephan Magro

Stephan MagroPhotograph by Jim Harrison

Stephan Magro once conjured up 250 red peonies, months out of season, for a dinner in honor of an important donor: with a couple of phone calls, they were flown in from Alaska. While he declines to name other miracles from his 15 years of planning events for the Development Office, he does say this: no sooner did he become Commencement director in July 2016 than he was flooded by special requests from parents, faculty, and alumni. Equal parts discretion and showmanship, the job demands sincere love of pageantry and mastery of detail, down to each seat-monitor’s training and every hood’s hue. Magro, who dresses in button-up vests and scarves, likens himself to a magician—after all, his job involves robes and wands, he jokes. Then he immediately self-corrects: it’s a baton. “This is a real artifact that’s used in our traditions! And it’s so fun.” But traditions aren’t dictated by some arcane office of lore, he adds: “It’s us.” Magro grew up in Massachusetts and spent summers with family in Italy, where he holds dual citizenship. In college, he studied sociology and journalism; through event planning, he became fluent in floral décor and wine pairings. And just as doctors make bad patients, he’s a guest who can’t relax. Magro recalls that at his sister’s wedding, he felt compelled to intervene with the caterers to expedite the meal service. (His own took place one October in Salem, amid tourists and costumed witches.) Graduation ceremonies, like those for marriage, have a performative logic: participants and the community collectively invest the ritual with meaning. With Commencement, Magro is in charge of a show, older than the United States, in which 32,000 well-wishers witness the conferral of degrees. He says, “You tell me something that’s more like a spell than this.”

Read more articles by: Sophia Nguyen

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