Jeremy Lin and Elizabeth Warren Highlight Class Days
A former NBA star and a U.S. Senator speak to new graduates.
Following yesterday’s Baccalaureate and separate graduations, the College today held its Class Day—as did other schools across the University—and recognized Harvard’s 2021 ROTC contingent.
A year after (remotely) welcoming Conan O’Brien ’85 to speak to the Class of 2020, the College today featured former Crimson and NBA star Jeremy Lin ’10, who—in addition to his continuing basketball career—has become a leading voice in opposition to discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans in the United States. Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Gottlieb professor of law, was the guest speaker for the Law School’s Class Day program.
Highlights from the day’s events follow.
“I Will Support and Defend the Constitution of The United States”: Honoring Harvard’s 2021 ROTC Contingent
Pandemic disruptions proved no barrier for the cadets and midshipmen in Harvard’s 2021 Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cohort. At an in-person commissioning ceremony this morning, seniors Gayatri Balasubramanian (Carmel, Indiana), Andrew Crawford (San Angelo, Texas), Clarke Patrone (Margate City, New Jersey), William Penzer (New York City), Jillian Sharples (Berwyn, Pennsylvania), and Randle Steinbeck took their oaths of office and became second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, as did A.L.B. candidate Peter Shiller. Joining them were new U.S. Air Force second lieutenants Ryan Comrie ’19 and senior Allan Cramblitt (Yutan, Nebraska). A third air force cadet, senior Luke Kenworthy ’21 (Las Vegas), who was unable to attend the ceremony, had received his commission earlier.
Courtesy of Craig Rodgers
To allow for social distancing, the Harvardians and their small group of guests traveled to Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, for the event, joining fellow commissionees from MIT and Wellesley. Later today, aboard the USS Constitution, at the Charlestown Navy Yard, senior Ryan Bayer (Coronado, California) will be commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy. His classmate Morgan Whitten, who will graduate in December and receive her commission then, will also be present for the ceremony.
Despite their distance from Tercentenary Theatre, both ceremonies retained a major Harvard connection: President Larry Bacow was to speak via recording to the imminent army and air force officers, and Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana was scheduled to address the naval ceremony. The morning’s guest speaker was General James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, a National Security Fellow at the Kennedy School in 2002.
An unfortunate technical problem rendered the live streams of both ceremonies inaudible. Updates will be provided if texts or recordings of the speeches become available.
“Think about Doing Something Scary”: Elizabeth Warren at the Law School’s Class Day
Class marshal Armani Jamal Madison, J.D. ’21, opened the Law School’s Class Day festivities by recognizing his fellow graduates for weathering the pandemic, as well as “a tumultuous era of American history”—one that shaped them into “conscientious changemakers” prepared to “pursue justice in an unjust world.” The subsequent awards ceremony recognized dozens of graduates for their dedication to advocacy, public service, and social justice, in addition to their display of compassion and community leadership.
Class marshal Sarah D. Rutherford, J.D. ’21—who introduced U.S. senator and former Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren as the Class Day speaker—recalled learning of Warren’s withdrawal from the 2020 presidential race. Rutherford said she felt “defeated” by the news, until she came across a flock of students posting heartening messages beside Warren’s faculty portrait. “The rainbow patchwork of notes grew and grew until it engulfed other portraits on the wall,” Rutherford remembered. “There were dozens and dozens that read, ‘We will persist.’ The mantra defined Warren’s presidential campaign, and—while I didn’t know it then—it defined our final year of law school.”
Screenshot by Harvard Magazine
After offering a sunny congratulations and offering to take selfies with graduates at their five-year reunion, Warren turned to a darker topic: the spreading “ugliness” that she said the nation has witnessed these past four years. Warren cited income and wealth inequality, structural racism, the climate crisis, a broken criminal-justice system, and dangerous misinformation as factors that threaten "to consume us all.” “It’s a grim list to talk about on graduation day,” she conceded. “But this list is why the world needs you.”
Warren urged graduates to step off the predictable—albeit prosperous—path to large law firms, businesses, and clerkships. “Law firms will pave a road from here to a fancy office in a fancy building in a fancy city. Businesses will line up for your talents. Judges will offer clerkships that will let you delay real life for another year or two,” she said. “But think about doing something scary. Think about striking off on your own.” Warren told the class of 2021 that true professional fulfillment lies in public service, should they have the courage to confront the country’s crises and injustices: “I guarantee that you will smile a deep down smile over the parts of your life that you have spent in service to others.”
“Who Are You Going to Bring with You?”: Jeremy Lin at Class Day
When Class Day speaker Jeremy Lin ’10 took the virtual stage—after speeches by Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana and scores of student orators, marshals, and awardees—he began detailing his efforts not to be the Class Day speaker. “When I was first asked to speak at Class Day, in true student-athlete fashion, I tried to turn down this extra writing assignment,” he joked. “I reminded the student committee that while the rest of you turned in brilliant personal statements to get into Harvard, I turned in a video of sweet moves from my California state championship game.”
But Lin had something in common with all of today’s graduates: he, too, was not on campus for graduation. While his friends attended Commencement events, Lin was attending a pre-draft workout with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Not wanting to leave Lin out, his friends paraded around a cardboard cut-out of him.)
Lin’s inability to celebrate his success in the moment served as one of the themes of his speech. Even in the few weeks he was the NBA’s—and maybe the world’s—most famous person, he remembers not being able to eat or sleep. “I had so much anxiety, I was stuck in bed shaking,” he said. “And that’s when I learned if you can’t be content in the journey, you will not be content at your destination.” He urged the class members to take a deep breath and really soak in their accomplishments—something he failed to do during his biggest successes.
Few players in NBA history have had as many ups and downs as Lin, who experienced superstardom and crippling injuries as a professional athlete. But the contrasts between the highs and lows helped him recognize what really drove him. “After being at the top of the world during Linsanity, I can tell you that success without community is absolutely meaningless,” he said. “When I look back on my life…the most fulfilling thing to me will be whether I inspire people and change things for the next generation.…Will someone after me have less barriers chasing their dreams because of what I did on and off the court?”
He encouraged the graduating seniors to lift up others as they achieve success themselves. When graduates are bombarded with questions about their future plans and dreams, he urged them to think about different ones: “Who are you going to be? Why do you do what you do?” and, most importantly, “Who are you going to bring with you along the way?”