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Ahead of Harvard Commencement, Graduating Students Celebrate Accomplishments with Affinity Ceremonies

By Julian J. Giordano, J. Sellers Hill, Marina Qu, and Frank S. Zhou
By Madeleine A. Hung and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard student groups hosted affinity celebrations for graduating students across the University on Monday and Tuesday, bringing together students of shared identity as part of this year’s Commencement festivities.

The affinity graduations — which included ceremonies for Arab, Black, LGBTQ+, and first-generation, low-income students — were organized with support from Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. The University also hosted the school’s inaugural affinity group graduation ceremony for graduates with disabilities Monday morning.

On Monday, FGLI graduates gathered for a ceremony that kicked off with a performance by the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones, a student a capella group. The event featured a faculty address from Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nancy E. Hill, a keynote speech by endocrinologist Stanley Andrisse, and a student address from graduating HGSE student Alex M. Murillo.

In his speech, Andrisse discussed his journey from being sentenced to 10 years in prison to becoming a doctor and assistant professor.

“Education was my game changer,” Andrisse said. “As first-generation graduates, you have the power to inspire and pave the way for future generations in your families and your communities, to inspire them to use education as this game-changing transformative tool.”

Murillo recognized the sacrifices made by friends and family to enable her success.

“We have triumphed over the limitations and obstacles of the system that was never designed with us in mind,” Murillo said. “In doing so we have paved the way for those who will come after us, leaving an indelible mark on the path to progress.”

An affinity celebration in Sever Quad on Monday brought together Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Desi American graduates. The ceremony began with an Apsara dance performance by the Angkor Dance Troupe, a Cambodian performing arts group based in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The event also featured addresses from Alexander L. Chen, founding director of Harvard Law School’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic; graduating Harvard Divinity School student Jennifer Sun-Fay Louie; and Coalition for a Diverse Harvard co-founder and former Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance president Jeannie Park ’83 — the ceremony’s keynote speaker.

During her address, Park spoke about how she “became an Asian American” during her time at the College, calling it the “one thing I did right at Harvard.”

“Coming here from my white suburban Ohio hometown was like reaching a lush oasis,” she said. “While studying Asian-American texts for the first time, I was jolted by seeing my life experience reflected in scholarship and by a new understanding of systemic injustice.”

After the ceremony concluded, Chen, Park, and members of Coalition for a Diverse Harvard posed with attendees for a photo, holding up signs that called on the Supreme Court to protect affirmative action.

Members of Coalition for a Diverse Harvard pose for a photo with AAPI graduates after an affinity celebration.
Members of Coalition for a Diverse Harvard pose for a photo with AAPI graduates after an affinity celebration. By Frank S. Zhou

Native American graduates came together for a celebration on Monday with an opening address by Brandon N. McIntire ’21, program coordinator of the Harvard University Native American Program. McIntire’s remarks were followed by student speakers Amy E. Chalan ’23 and graduating Harvard Kennedy School student Joy M. Lacanienta.

On Tuesday, Black graduates celebrated their accomplishments at an affinity celebration. Graduating Harvard Business School student Jourdan M. Henry delivered the student address. HKS visiting fellow George “Chip” Greenidge and civil rights activist DeRay McKesson also gave speeches.

The Lavender Celebration, which honors LGBTQ+ graduates, took place on Tuesday afternoon at Harvard Divinity School. The event featured several speakers and performances, including a performance by drag queens Destiny and Chanel, a keynote speech by Schuyler M. Bailar ’19, and a student address by graduating HBS student Sapan Shah.

Later in the afternoon, Arab graduates gathered for a ceremony in Memorial Church — the first official University-wide affinity celebration of its kind. The event featured addresses from Harvard Arab Students Association President and soon-to-be HKS graduate Yasmin A. Kayali, Harvard Society for Arab Students President Sam M. Saba ’23, and Harvard Arab Alumni Association President and HKS graduate Luma Al Saleh.

At the graduation for Latinx students, graduating HGSE student Alejandra Ramos Gomez delivered the student address, HGSE professor Gabrielle Oliveira delivered the faculty address, and former Miss Dominican Republic Andreína Martinez Fournier gave a keynote speech.

“I want to remind you that it absolutely matters where you come from, because our countries, our communities, our families and our ancestors are where we draw our courage and determination from,” Martinez Fourier said.

“I look around and I see people that look like me, people that look like my family, people that look like my friends,” she added. “You make it very clear today that people like us don’t just go to Harvard — we graduate from Harvard.”

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at madeleine.hung@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.

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Student LifeRaceCommencementFeatured ArticlesFirst Generation Low IncomeCommencement 2023

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