Pallas Chou ’23, Senior English Address

Return to Continuity and Change


Read more about this year's Commencement Student Speakers


Pallas Chou ’23

Senior English Address

I love enzymes. Tiny molecular machines, too small to be seen by the naked eye, they’re in each of our cells, performing important life functions like helping us breathe and allowing us to eat and digest yummy foods, like the warm Taiwanese beef noodle soup my mother makes, niuroumian, and the creamy New England Chowder my friends and I savor on Friday nights in the d-hall.

Enzymes perform these functions by bringing together different molecules in the cell, causing these molecules to interact with each other.

As a chemical and physical biology student, I spend a lot of time working with enzymes in the lab. There are so many different types of enzymes, each one with a different shape, color, and size and all serving different purposes that allow our bodies to function. When I first walked into Harvard Yard, I could never have imagined all the amazing people I would meet, hailing from Greece to Rwanda to Yemen to my hometown in California. Together, we would have late-night conversations and play “truth or truth,” learning about each other’s aspirations and grilling each other about romantic interests. My perspectives on different issues in the world have widened because of these incredible people from all over the world.

When you zoom into an enzyme, you’ll see that it has a unique structure that allows it to perform its function. The different creases and folds of an enzyme allow it to do what it does. For instance, a gap in the enzyme might be where a molecule fits and an extending branch of the enzyme might be where it grabs a molecule. Each crease, each fold, each loop, each bump, makes an enzyme perform really fascinating functions.

The structure of the enzyme is partly determined by the DNA that encodes it. Similarly, our individual characteristics are partly determined by the families we come from. My family, my DNA, has indeed shaped my upbringing. From teaching me that nothing is too small for me to be passionate about and that the library cards are the key to life, my family has formed a solid foundation of who I am.

However, an enzyme’s structure is not only determined by the DNA that encodes it. Other enzymes in the cell, as well as the surrounding environment, help shape the enzyme. From our first year to now, we have been together through ups and downs, shaping each other. We’ve scrambled for boxes, toilet paper, and mute buttons as the world was shutting down in 2020. We’ve lived through a pandemic that has reconstructed our perception of what education can be. We’ve comforted each other as we grieved the loss of loved ones. We’ve met inspiring professors who help us grow and classmates who are musicians, magicians, and mountaineers who never fail to encourage us. For many of us, it was a long journey to get here, to be sitting here today in the theater. And, today, we will celebrate.

Enzymes, although small, make reactions that are impossible, possible. By making possible the challenging intricacies of life, enzymes teach us that the boundaries of our abilities are limitless when we are shaped by those who care for us. Do not underestimate what we can collectively accomplish. Just as enzymes bring molecules together to catalyze chemical reactions, I have seen so many of you bring people together to catalyze change. As we leave Harvard, we will continue to shape and be shaped by the world around us, serving as enzymes of Veritas.

You might also like

Equality and Justice

A Radcliffe Day panel discusses pluralism and progress. 

Using the Law for Good

2024 Radcliffe Medalist Sonia Sotomayor on civic engagement and optimism

Close Call

Ending a tumultuous year, Harvard tradition is served in the 373rd Commencement—with plenty of thunder from the stage.

Most popular

Harvard Discloses Administrator and Investment Manager Compensation

The annual release on leaders’ most recent pay

Harvard Corporation Rules Thirteen Students Cannot Graduate

Faculty of Arts and Sciences May 20 vote on protestors’ status does not confer “good standing.”

AWOL from Academics

Behind students' increasing pull toward extracurriculars

More to explore

Bernini’s Model Masterpieces at the Harvard Art Museums

Thirteen sculptures from Gian Lorenzo Bernini at Harvard Art Museums.

Private Equity in Medicine and the Quality of Care

Hundreds of U.S. hospitals are owned by private equity firms—does monetizing medicine affect the quality of care?

Sasha the Harvard Police Dog

Sasha, the police dog of Harvard University