Behind the Scenes: When the pictures say it all


Harvard Magazine is committed to TELLING the stories about the Harvard community that matter to you. Usually, we do so through our reporting and accompanying photographs and illustrations. But sometimes an image alone says more than any text could. That was the case for the stark difference between the Commencements of 2020 and 2022—hence our cover choices for the subsequent July-August magazines.

On May 28, 2020—just 10 weeks after students were sent home and the campus operations of this quintessentially residential institution were shuttered—the joyful emotions and Crimson pageantry of graduation were absent. Kristina DeMichele, the magazine’s digital content strategist, herself a new, pandemic-era member of the staff, photographed a deserted, silent Tercentenary Theatre looking from Widener Library’s steps down the long central walkway—normally the route of the presidential procession to the Commencement platform alongside Memorial Church. The unpeopled, desolate scene told the whole story of what our cover lines called “COVID-19, Commencement ’20”: a sobering, indelible image of a world turned upside down—and of all the things members of the extended Harvard community hold dear about the place, then out of reach. 

Now, move forward to 2022. The pandemic continues, albeit in less threatening ways within the University, given near-universal vaccination and pervasive testing and safety precautions. Harvard decided it could proceed with an in-person 371st Commencement week for the class of 2022, a Commencement celebration and confirmation of degrees for the classes of 2020 and 2021 (who graduated online), and the inaugural Harvard Alumni DayThe magazine covered these emotional events in depth, in multiple stories and tens of thousands of words of reporting.

How better to capture the welcome return to near-normalcy than in a single, brilliant image that summarized a perfect Commencement morning, May 26? And who better to deliver the goods than long-time contributing photographer Jim Harrison, who has been photographing Harvard graduations for a half-century? A portfolio of his 2022 work appears here. Art director Jennifer Carling combed through hundreds of Jim’s Commencement morning photographs to pick the one published on the July-August 2022 cover: President Lawrence S. Bacow at the lectern addressing the throng, the Memorial Church platform fully populated, College degree candidates in the foreground, and the brilliant sunshine coming through the sheltering tree canopy to highlight incipient Ph.D.s in their crimson doctoral gowns: the scholars and academic leaders of the future. 

Of course, we continue to serve you through our journalism—including complete coverage of the news, announced just days later, on June 8, that having led the community through the pandemic to this triumphant moment of student and family celebration, President Bacow intends to step down at the end of the next academic year. Stay tuned, online and in print, for complete coverage of his final year in Mass Hall, and the search for his successor.