Jacinda Ardern to Speak at Harvard Commencement

New Zealand prime minister scheduled to address graduates on May 26.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the Christchurch Earthquake 10th Anniversary
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the Christchurch Earthquake 10th AnniversaryPhotograph in the public domain

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, making a planned trip to the United States, will be the featured guest speaker at Harvard’s 2022 Commencement exercises on the morning of May 26. The news, officially released by the University today, inadvertently leaked in a New Zealand report dated this morning—which cited two people with knowledge of the planned trip, probably from within the New Zealand government; the report was subsequently picked up by The Harvard Crimson.

The New Zealand report describes a planned trade mission to the United States, which is still being arranged, apparently; during the visit, the prime minister is scheduled to be the speaker at the first in-person Commencement since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020. Ardern imposed strict isolation on her island country, which attempted to limit the epidemic by taking advantage of its geographic remoteness and ability to control its borders.

The New Zealand reporter is Anna Fifield, who was a 2014 international Nieman Foundation Fellow at Harvard.

The text of the University announcement follows here:

Jacinda Ardern named Class of 2022 Harvard Commencement speaker

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, will be the principal speaker at Harvard’s 369th Commencement on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Ardern has led New Zealand since 2017.

"Prime Minister Ardern is one of the most respected leaders on the world stage and we are delighted she will join us in May to celebrate the Class of 2022,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “From climate change and gender equality to COVID-19, she has modeled compassionate leadership that has brought together empathy and science-based solutions to address the most challenging issues of our time. I very much look forward to her address.”

Born in Hamilton, New Zealand, as the child of a police officer and a school cafeteria worker, Ardern graduated from Waikato University in 2001 with a degree in professional communications and international relations. After graduating, she pursued a career in politics working in the office of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. She subsequently moved to the United Kingdom to work as a senior policy advisor in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office. 

Her career as an elected official began when she joined New Zealand’s Parliament as a member of the Labour Party in 2008. At that time she was the youngest member of Parliament. After almost a decade of service, she was elected to lead the Labour Party in 2017. 

Later that year, Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand. She is the third woman to govern the country, and the youngest person to hold the office in more than 150 years. Her historic win was broadly attributed to her optimism and energetic approach to politics.

A self-described “pragmatic idealist,” Ardern has brought global attention to New Zealand’s efforts in the fight against climate change and advanced policies on gender equity and women’s rights. Re-elected to a second term in a significant victory, Ardern has also put emphasis on diversity and representation in her cabinet, appointing Nanaia Mahuta as New Zealand’s first Indigenous female foreign minister in 2020. 

Ardern’s leadership has also been tested by tragedy. After the attack on a mosque in Christchurch in March 2019, Ardern’s response was widely praised in her embrace of the country’s Muslim community; she devised a program for financial assistance for the victims’ families and reformed gun laws in the following weeks, announcing a ban on all military style semi-automatics and assault rifles in New Zealand.

Ardern has also garnered international admiration for swift and decisive management of the pandemic. At the outset of COVID-19, New Zealand kept remarkably low infection rates and death. Espousing science coupled with empathetic policies designed to support New Zealanders throughout the crisis, Ardern has so far mitigated some of the pandemic’s harshest consequences.

The recipient of numerous honors, Ardern was awarded the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership’s 2020 Gleitsman International Activist Award. She has twice been named in Time 100’s Most Influential People list, repeatedly been named to the Forbes magazine list of the world’s most powerful women and topped the Fortune 2021 list of the world’s greatest leaders.

Ardern will join a list of past Harvard Commencement speakers including Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, former Washington Post editor Marty Baron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, entrepreneur and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Ardern will be the 17th world leader to deliver the address. She will also be awarded an honorary degree.

Harvard University will also hold a Commencement ceremony on May 29, 2022, for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, whose ceremonies were postponed due to the pandemic. The University will announce the speaker for the May 29 ceremony in the coming weeks.



Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

You might also like

Slow and Steady

A Harvard Law School graduate completes marathons in all 50 states.  

Claudine Gay in First Post-Presidency Appearance

At Morning Prayers, speaks of resilience and the unknown

The Dark History Behind Chocolate

A Harvard course on the politics and culture of food

Most popular

Claudine Gay in First Post-Presidency Appearance

At Morning Prayers, speaks of resilience and the unknown

Why Americans Love to Hate Harvard

The president emeritus on elite universities’ academic accomplishments—and a rising tide of antagonism

Harvard College Reinstitutes Mandatory Testing

Applicants for the class of 2029 must submit scores.

More to explore

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Capturing the American South

Photographs at the Addison Gallery of American Art 

The Happy Warrior Redux

Hubert Humphrey’s liberalism reconsidered