Class Day Speakers Announced

Admissions dean William Fitzsimmons ’67 and Currier House security guard Bill Oliverio to address Harvard class of 2024 

Rows of chairs set up in Tercentenary Theatre with tented stage in the distance

Photograph by Niko Yaitanes/Harvard Magazine

On Monday afternoon, First Class Marshall Fez Zafar ’24 announced in a group chat with Harvard seniors this year’s two Class Day speakers: dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 and Currier House security guard Bill Oliverio. The choice of speakers was confirmed by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) this morning. The unconventional choices were officially announced just one day before the ceremony—extremely late relative to previous years, when speakers were announced in late April or early May.

“We thought it would be unique to bring two speakers who have witnessed generations of Harvard students come and go from campus, both of whom have both literally and figuratively held open the door for students,” Zafar said in an interview. “It’s quite fitting to have these two speakers who may be unconventional, because our class has been unique, to say the least, since the moment we arrived in the Yard during the pandemic.”

Previous Class Day speakers have included high-profile politicians, actors, and athletes, including Larry Wilmore last year, Michelle Wu ’07, J.D. ’12 in 2022, and Jeremy Lin ’10 in 2021. The Crimson reported that more than 10 people turned down invitations to serve as this year’s speaker in the wake of a year of frequent controversy on campus.

“The HAA is thrilled to celebrate the Harvard College class of 2024 on class day,” an HAA spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing from Dean Fitzsimmons and Bill Oliverio, and to welcoming the class of 2024 to the community of Harvard alumni.”

William R. Fitzsimmons standing outside with building and trees behind him
William R. Fitzsimmons  | Photograph by stephanie mitchell/hpac

Fitzsimmons has served as dean of admissions and financial aid since 1986, most recently guiding Harvard through an admissions lawsuit that struck down affirmative action and adapting admissions policies in its aftermath. Oliverio has worked at Harvard for 14 years, according to Zafar. “He’s someone who’s highly regarded and valued by the campus community, but hasn’t spoken at a proper ceremony like this,” Zafar said. “In speaking to [Oliverio] and hearing about how he plans to share his story—and the same with Dean Fitzsimmons—I think the crowd will be in for two very unique speeches.”

Though the selection took longer than expected, Zafar said, the senior class committee remained involved throughout the process. “We recognized it would be interesting to bring someone from Harvard staff, who might not necessarily be a dean or faculty,” he said. “[Oliverio] was a very clear consensus pick from the beginning, given that he is so well known and so appreciated by members of the class.”

Zafar said he looks forward to “two speeches that an external speaker would not be able to provide”—hearing about Fitzsimmons’s perspective on students as they evolve from applicants to graduating seniors, and Oliverio’s view of Harvard students “when no one else is watching them” as a security guard. “He sees who students are as human beings at their core,” Zafar continued. “And I think that is a kind of perspective that no faculty, no celebrity speaker can attest to.”

Read more articles by Nina Pasquini

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