Merrick Garland to Address Classes of 2020-2021 Ceremony
Harvard announced today that Merrick B. Garland ’74, J.D. ’77, the eighty-sixth Attorney General of the United States, will address the special Commencement celebration on Sunday, May 29: the make-up ceremony for the classes of 2020-2021 (now alumni, of course), who received their degrees virtually during the pandemic.
Garland was appointed a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997, served as Chief Judge of the Circuit from 2013 to 2020, and served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 2017 to 2020. In 2016, President Barack Obama, J.D. ’91, nominated him for the position of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, LL.B. ’60. In an unprecedented display of election year-politicking, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate denied him a hearing, and the appointment languished. (Garland was also elected to Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 2003 and served as its president during his final year of service. Current Overseer Ketanji Brown Jackson ’92, J.D. ’96, a judge on the same U.S. Court of Appeals, is the current nominee to the Supreme Court.)
In a statement accompanying the announcement, President Lawrence S. Bacow said, “Merrick Garland is a true public servant. From his unfailing resolve in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings, to his widely respected service as a judge, to his leadership at the Department of Justice, he has demonstrated deep devotion to the rule of law and to the cause of justice. It is an honor to have him join us for what will surely be a memorable address.”
Garland now faces not only the regular responsibilities of attorney general, the nation’s chief legal officer, but also the many challenges involved in trying to restore the Department of Justice to its traditional impartial role despite intense partisan pressure, following the turmoil and politicization that characterized the Trump administration—particularly the efforts, now being investigated by Congress, to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
With the announcement of Garland as the May 29 speaker, the lineup of Commencement and alumni headliners is now complete. They include New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Commencement proper, on the morning of May 26; civil-rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill at Radcliffe Day, on May 27; Garland; and former poet laureate and current faculty member Tracy K. Smith at the new Harvard Alumni Day, on June 3.