Class of 2020,
Here we are … and aren’t.
From the beginning of our time at Harvard, we anticipated the day our achievements would be honored in the liveliness of Tercentenary Theater — with waves of pride and joy amidst the hues of crimson, funny-looking top hats, and the unification of our two worlds: our families and friends.
In reality, this day — the day we officially become Harvard graduates — is as removed from the norm as we are from each other. Two months ago, we faced the harsh reality that we wouldn’t spend the culminating months with friends in-person, having our post-thesis fun, and if nothing else, simply existing on the campus we have come to call home. While we have all responded to this grief differently, today we feel a mutual sense of despondency over what the current state of the world has taken from us.
This feeling of discouragement is valid. Indeed, we believe that today, we must allow ourselves to feel the way that we feel. At the same time, it is essential that we understand that this day is still special. That we are doing what so many of us deemed unimaginable just a few years ago is immutable. Today, we are graduating from Harvard.
In reflecting on the past 3.75 years, we realize there is much to be proud of. We’ve been through a lot together, Class of 2020. Our journey began when we walked through the gates of Harvard and stood in the Yard in wonder, realizing that we found our new home. We shared memories of our pasts and aspirations for our future with strangers and, by happenstance, some of them became our closest friends. Together, we settled in.
Then, things changed. With the unprecedented 2016 presidential election, many of us were ignited with shock. We quickly grasped the understanding that our worlds deviated from our expectations. And in this state of uncertainty and disorder, we sought refuge within Harvard’s gates and became grateful to have each other.
As we moved forward and further ingrained ourselves into campus life, we realized that uncertainty would follow us. We declared (and re-declared) our concentrations. We joined and got rejected from extracurriculars, internships, and even classes, leaving us in a state of self-doubt. Even in our final year, we constantly assessed (and re-assessed) who we were academically, socially, and later on, professionally.
Throughout these years, many of us hoped that Harvard would be a panacea for the myriad of unforeseeable obstacles. We liked to think that after four years, we would get inspired (and maybe learn how to code) and walk away with the rest of our lives all figured out. Indeed, we were often granted opportunities that allowed us to choose comfort and prestige in the face of uncertainty.
But comfort feels more elusive than ever. Today, we find that uncertainty permeates our everyday lives so drastically that it has forced us away from our lives at Harvard back to where we were before Harvard. It’s been jarring, upsetting, and simply put, wrong.
But it isn’t meaningless.
For the first time in years, we have been pushed to understand who we are outside of Harvard. And this has taught us a lot. In particular, it has made the two of us confront our fixation on productivity and reconnect with the things we truly love to do. More importantly, it has driven us to be intentional about what we really care about.
For all of us, this period has pushed us to distinguish between what makes us comfortable and what makes us fulfilled. With this, Class of 2020, we hope that you lean into that feeling of uncertainty. That feeling is precisely what makes us who we are. Uncertainty motivates us to take risks, embrace the present, and ask ourselves what really matters, guiding us back to our passions and pursuits that brought us to Harvard in the first place. Having completed our undergraduate years, we now have the tools and education to solve the greatest challenges of this ever-changing world.
But embracing uncertainty will not be easy, especially now. In an economy and world that entices us to avoid risk, it’s tempting to choose the safer route. If — and inevitably, when — this is the case, may we remember that we have had years of experience questioning ourselves and our world. Since the beginning of our time at Harvard, we’ve gotten a lot of preparation with being caught off guard and finding a way to carry on. And if there is one thing we’ve learned from this process, it’s that we can get through it together.
Our college experience is not defined by the current state of the world. The years we had on campus and the months we’ve spent together since then are not only irreplaceable, but also ongoing. We like to think that this lack of closure will make the future even brighter, and we hope that as a class we will use this experience to celebrate every moment that we do have: taking spontaneous trips (when safe) to see those we’ve missed, staying close with people we may not have otherwise, and rallying the masses to every reunion we hold, starting at our in-person commencement. Ultimately, we hope to hold Harvard in our hearts not as a thing of the past, but as a continuous part of our lives. And as your marshals, we promise to facilitate this by striving to make every moment we come back together even better than what would’ve been.
Tomorrow isn’t promised; we know this now more than ever before. Remember that even in this time dominated by uncertainty, every moment is worth embracing, because we’ve seen firsthand what happens when we wait. So for now, enjoy your moment of celebration for all that you have accomplished. As you watch the ceremonies from home and reconnect with the communities we are apart from, remember that this letter truly serves not as a goodbye but as a see you later. There has never been a class that has meant this the way we do. Harvard — and the sea of crimson flags, black regalia, and pomp and circumstance in the midst of laughter and tears — will always be in our hearts. Today of all days, we don’t want to let it go. Lucky for us, we don’t have to.
We’ll be back.
With love from afar,
Eric J. Cheng, First Class Marshal
Angelina Ye, Second Class Marshal
Eric J. Cheng ’20, an Economics concentrator in Quincy House, is First Marshal of the College's Class of 2020.
Angelina Ye ’20, an Economics concentrator in Lowell House, is Second Marshal of the College's Class of 2020.