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Convocation: Address to the Class of 2024

Thank you, Amanda. It’s great to be here—in person!—to welcome all of you back to Harvard. Your class is very special. You are the first in Harvard’s 385-year history to have both an online convocation and an in-person convocation.

Let’s hope the remix is as good as the original.

I hope you will still feel free to call me Larry. If we cross paths on campus, please say “hello” and let me know how things are going. We are all finding our footing this semester, and I want you to know that there are many, many people on campus dedicated to ensuring that your second year at Harvard College is everything you hope it will be, including as “normal” as possible.

Making that possible is a community effort. Yes, vaccination is required on campus, but the individuals who are here teaching you, coaching you, reshelving your library books, making your meals, cleaning your classrooms—the list goes on and on—may be returning home to young children whose freedom and opportunities are still limited by the pandemic.

That’s just one example of a degree of separation that each of us needs to keep in mind this year. Preserving our community—maintaining the ability to be together—depends on constant care for one another, especially as circumstances change. By now, we all know what it takes to stay safe—and I ask that you continue to be responsible and considerate people as we make our way through the semester together. The more we work together, the more likely we will be able to provide you with as normal a College experience as we can.

I also ask that you spend some time during these first few weeks noticing and marking those aspects of community that you missed last year—the everyday exchanges and experiences that narrow gaps in understanding and make friends of strangers. What do you savor most about time in person with your classmates? With your professors and mentors? What parts of this amazing campus now hold special meaning for you? Think about how you can shape your next three years to maximize those moments because those are the moments that will be with you for a lifetime. Moments that you may not have even noticed before but that now take on special meaning because of what you have all been through, together.

Notice and mark, too, how you have changed as a person since we last met. Challenges lead to growth, and this past year certainly was a challenge for every single one of us. How did you grow? Which aspects of who you are will you choose to nurture in the year ahead? Which will you choose to shed? This return—your return—to campus is a chance to see yourself and your classmates anew, to define and distinguish yourselves and your class. I cannot imagine a better time to undertake that work.

Finally, now that you have the luxury of being together again, I hope you will seize the opportunity to build a better community, a more compassionate community, a kinder community. I still have yet to meet anyone who thinks the world we live in—or the University to which we belong—is perfect. It is entirely possible that your view of how things ought to be is at odds with the view of someone just a few seats away from you. Never forget that we learn from our differences. Interrogating your own beliefs—and being open to thinking differently about your own assertions and assumptions—is what leads to wisdom. Learning and growing in wisdom is what being here—and being here together—is all about.

I cannot express how happy I am to be here with all of you to begin the academic year. Our time together is precious, more precious than any of us might have thought when you first arrived on campus. I look forward to seeing you throughout the semester. In the meantime, enjoy all that this remarkable University has to offer—but especially one another’s company. Good luck—and Godspeed.