Skip to main content

Commencement Remarks to the Classes of 2020 and 2021

Congratulations, members of the Harvard Class of 2020.

Congratulations, members of the Harvard Class of 2021.

What a beautiful sight—what a pleasing sound! I am not sure whether to call this day your commencement or your first reunion, but, whatever we call it, I do know that this day is wonderful—truly spectacular and a very long time in coming. 

I want to extend a special welcome to the members of your class who are participating online. Some of you are living abroad and could not make it here due to visa problems. Please know that this ceremony is also for you. Let’s all turn around and give your classmates who could not be with us a big wave and a special welcome.

Throughout this whole ordeal and long before it, your moms and dads, your spouses and children, your family and friends were there for you, cheering you on at every turn, making sure you knew you were loved and supported. Many sacrificed so you could be here today. And yes, some of them also became, at least for a while, your unexpected college roommates. They cooked for you and, in some cases, even helped you with your laundry. They deserve your thanks, so please stand, turn, and face them—and let them know how much you appreciate what they have done for you.

Sending you home in March of 2020 is one of the hardest things I have ever done. At the time, I never imagined that the pandemic would disrupt campus life for close to two years and would necessitate canceling not one but two commencements. But now, here you are, more than nine thousand strong, and I have to tell you that the view from up here is spectacular. Thank you all for being here either in person or virtually, and for giving us the opportunity to provide you with the proper sendoff that you so richly deserve.

So, welcome back to your alma mater, to an institution that will embrace you throughout your lifetime, an institution to which your many achievements will add luster in the years to come.

The reciprocity of membership in this community is a curious thing. You go out into a world that expects great things from you because of your Harvard degree, while the great things that you wind up doing ultimately accrue to the value of that Harvard degree. And that value accrues to those who came before you—to those who will come after you—to all those seated around you today.

Veritas ad infinitum.

Nothing has taught me that lesson better than these last two years. At the beginning of the pandemic, like all of you, I worried. I worried about the same things that you worried about—about the people and the communities I love, about the health and safety of those who I care about, about the possibility of things never being as they once were.

But I was cheered almost immediately by the people of Harvard—people everywhere doing everything they could do, working hard and working fast, leaving nothing to chance. Each new day brought with it new challenges, but also a story—sometimes two or three—of selfless effort, of creativity and ingenuity, of decency and kindness, of humanity.

Your time as students—though not what you would have wished, though not what any of us would have wished for you—coincided with this institution at its best. We were reminded of something that has been true of Harvard since its earliest days: We rise to the challenge. Whatever the world throws at us, we meet that challenge, and you did. I could not be prouder of each and every one of you.

Members of the Class of 2020, members of the Class of 2021, you need not be challenged further—at least during your time at Harvard. May you proceed from this space connected to one another, steeled by your experience, more confident and resilient, and ready to meet whatever the world throws at you in the future. Take what you have learned during your time here and use your education to leave this imperfect world better than you found it. I have great confidence that you will.

Good luck to each and every one of you—congratulations and Godspeed.