Celebrating the Classes of ’20 and ’21
The University today announced that members of the classes of 2020 and 2021, who received their Harvard degrees off campus in virtual conferral ceremonies during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, will be invited back to campus on May 29, 2022, to enjoy the festival rites. Because the circumstances are unique, there are many—including how many people will travel to Cambridge, accompanied by whom. So the invitation from President Lawrence S. Bacow links to a survey where class members can indicate their inclinations, and University planners in turn can figure out how many people might be accommodated, how many tickets each person might be granted for guests, and so on.
In his invitation to members of the classes, Bacow said:
I write with happy news. The time has come to make good on my promise that we would one day welcome you back to campus for an unforgettable and joyous Commencement. We will gather in Tercentenary Theatre at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 29, 2022, to celebrate your achievements, marking the conclusion of what has been an extraordinarily trying time for all of us with an affirmation of our community’s strength and spirit.
Planning for festivities is under way. Each of the Schools will host programs in addition to the University-wide gathering, and we will be reaching out to you and sharing additional information as it becomes available. In the meantime, I hope you will take a moment to indicate your interest, which will aid us in the work ahead.
I am looking forward to giving you a proper send-off from the heart of Harvard Yard. Nothing can replace the energy and excitement of being together, and I hope you and your loved ones will be able to join us for what we hope will be a once-in-a-generation event.
He also invited members of the community to attend, “to celebrate not only their achievements but also your own efforts to see them through a period of great uncertainty and change.”
Amid many unknowns, a few things are clear.
First, the ’20 and ’21 class members are no longer students. Their degrees were conferred, the diplomas mailed; they are bona fide alumni, returning to Harvard (or not) to partake in some of the ceremonies they were denied when the campus was closed. So this isn’t a “Commencement” with degree-conferral and graduation, but uniquely Harvard festivities and rituals that usually go along with one. Those trappings and occasions are being reincarnated for the benefit, enjoyment, and fulfillment of the graduates and their families who were deprived of the joyful opportunity by a global public-health crisis.
Second, this is going to be a jam-packed Commencement season unlike any other:
•In the new order of business (public-health conditions permitting), the class of 2022 will have a full, regular, in-person Commencement in Tercentenary Theatre and at undergraduate Houses and graduate and professional schools, on Thursday, May 26. The Morning Exercises presumably will be embedded in the usual calendar of events, including Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises, class days, and various social gatherings—and the morning program will include the Commencement guest speaker’s address (the precedent set in the 2020 and 2021 virtual events).
•As was the case last year, the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) annual meeting—with a separate guest speaker, report by the president, and various honors (the erstwhile, traditional afternoon exercises)—will be held separately, this year on Friday, June 3, surrounded by reunions. Those events are now separated from Commencement per se: a bow to the reality of large numbers, as Harvard confers more degrees and graduates, their families, and the reunion throngs have increasingly exceeded the capacity of Tercentenary Theatre and environs.
•In between, on the weekend after Commencement, but preceding the HAA meeting and reunions, the classes of 2020 and 2021 will get in their deferred hoopla, sharing of pandemic stories, indulging in nostalgia after these many months apart, parading together in academic regalia—and, finally and importantly, a proper sense of closure on that Harvard chapter of their lives. The Commencement staging will have been put in place for the class of 2022 celebrants, so slipping the do-over between this year’s actual graduation (whose participants will have to be hurried off the stage and out of town to make way for those attending from the prior two classes) and the arrival of the reunion classes makes sense.
The plans for the weekend are not yet known. Presumably, this will be a two-day affair (May 28-29), given the early hour of the University ceremony on Sunday. Bacow’s note hints at House and school gatherings and celebrations—such as those typically scheduled after Commencement morning events, and possibly on Saturday, given participants’ likely arrival. There was no word on whether there will be a speaker or commemoration that relates to the classes’ unique pandemic circumstances and experiences, but one can imagine something like that as part of the formal University program. Honorands received their honorary degrees during the virtual ceremonies of the past two springs, and the guest speakers, as noted, have already spoken. So content for this “once-in-a-generation” event (one hopes!) will necessarily differ.
In any event, for those who want a close facsimile of the full-fledged Commencement experience, the University is fulfilling its promise to roll out the Crimson carpet on their behalf. Stay tuned for a late May and early June unprecedented in the institution’s 386 years.