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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
Outgoing University President Lawrence S. Bacow told graduates that he, like the Class of 2023, is “wondering what the future holds,” as he said goodbye to Harvard during Commencement morning exercises on Thursday.
After serving for five years as president, Bacow will leave his post in Massachusetts Hall and retire at the end of June. Claudine Gay, who served as Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean for the entirety of Bacow’s presidency, will succeed him as the University’s 30th president.
Bacow’s remarks ended a two-and-a-half-hour Commencement ceremony filled with tradition, live music, and festivities as the Class of 2023 celebrated the end of their Harvard education.
Bacow conferred 1,850 bachelor’s degrees to College graduates in his last Commencement as University president. Overall, he awarded 9,110 degrees to students across the University — which included College seniors, students from Harvard’s graduate schools, and graduates from the Harvard Extension School.
Alongside Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, Bacow also bestowed honorary degrees — including one on acclaimed actor Tom Hanks, who delivered the ceremony’s keynote address.
Five others also received honorary doctorate degrees: Admiral Michael G. Mullen with a doctorate of laws, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jennifer A. Doudna with a doctorate of science, radio executive Hugo N. Morales ’72 with a doctorate of humane letters, historian David Levering Lewis with a doctorate of laws, and biochemist Katalin Karikó with a doctorate of science.
The speeches by Hanks and Bacow to conclude Harvard’s 2023 Commencement were preceded by two undergraduate student addresses and one graduate student speech.
Bacow reflected on his own graduation in Tercentenary Theatre, noting that receiving a Harvard education raised his expectations for himself and also allowed him to reimagine what he thought was possible to accomplish in life.
“At my Commencement, I never imagined that someday I would be standing here giving the final remarks at your Commencement,” he said. “I hope — as you find your way through life — that you will have similarly pleasant surprises.”
Bacow also extended thanks “to all of those who helped me along the path of life, to those who gave me opportunities I never could have imagined, to those who gave me the extraordinary responsibility to lead Harvard over these past five years, and to those who helped me do it.”
He expressed gratitude to Adele F. Bacow, his wife of 48 years, and the students in the crowd at Tercentenary Theatre.
“I am grateful to each and every one of you for being a constant source of hope and optimism,” Bacow told the Class of 2023. “Serving as your president has been the privilege of my life. I look forward eagerly to celebrating all that you will do for the world — and all whose lives will be made better by your good work.”
Bacow concluded his speech by saying goodbye to Harvard, before returning to his perch in the infamous Holyoke chair as the audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation.
“To the Class of 2023: thank you, farewell, and godspeed,” Bacow said.
—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mherszenhorn.
—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.
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