Nate Warren and Elizabeth Sapia silhouetted against Commencement backdrop in Harvard Yard.

Nate Warren and Elizabeth Sapia watch Commencement from the Widener Library steps.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Pomp and circumstance — and surprises

3 min read

Day of tradition leavened with wit, wisdom — and like box of chocolates, attendees were never sure what they were going to get

The magic of Commencement is how it embraces tradition yet makes it new. Comedian Larry Wilmore offered the Class Day crowd wit and wisdom, advising them to “be fearless in your lives…[and] keep showing up.” The main speaker Tom Hanks, who urged the graduates to become everyday superheroes and protect American ideals, was favorably compared in the Latin Salutatory to luminaries such as “Vinstonio Churchill et Johanne Kennedy ac Forresto Gump,” one of Hanks’ marquee roles. In addition, members of Hasty Pudding serenaded Hanks with a listing of his films sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Major-General Song.” Commencement Day also marked Larry Bacow’s last as president as he prepares to pass the baton to Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “At my Commencement,” Bacow said, “I never imagined that someday I would be standing here giving the final remarks at your Commencement. I hope — as you find your way through life — that you will have similarly pleasant surprises.”

Nisha Sayed wears decorated mortarboard reading "The best is yet to come!"
Matthew Potts and Alanna Sullivan.

At Tuesday’s Baccalaureate service in Tercentenary Theatre, Nisha Seyed donned a decorated cap, and Pusey Minister Matthew Potts and the Rev. Alanna Sullivan watched the graduates stream in.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Larry Bacow and Claudine Gay, the president and president-elect, are pictured during Commencement 2023 festivities.

Passing the baton? Current and incoming Harvard Presidents Larry Bacow and Claudine Gay at Baccalaureate.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Meimei Weston, Esther Xiang, and Janna Ramadan laughing.

Graduates Meimei Weston (from left), Esther Xiang, and Janna Ramadan.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

President Larry Bacow’s chief of staff Patti Bellinger (left) and his wife, Adele Bacow, watch his final Baccalaureate address.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Adele Bacow applauds.
Larry Wilmore and Athena Ye.

Class Day speaker Larry Wilmore and Athena Ye, 2023 Class Committee First Marshal.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Fiona Carroll, Alana Carroll, and Sam Woolf.
Rakesh Khurana holds camera to take selfie with Amelia Mary Cossentino.

Fiona Carroll (from left), Alana Carroll, and Sam Woolf watch the Ivy Oration. Amelia Mary Cossentino takes a selfie with Dean Rakesh Khurana.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer and Scott Eisen

Aerial view of the Yard of Commencement.

A packed Tercentenary Theatre.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Honorands Katalin Karikó and Tom Hanks have some fun as Peter J. Koutoujian, Sheriff of Middlesex County, calls the meeting to order.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Katalin Karikó takes a photo with phone and Tom Hanks points as Peter J. Koutoujian calls Commencement to order.
Graduates wave flags.

Layla Siraj (from left), Sadie Piatt, Chelsea Messinger, and Daniel Greenfield wave Harvard Griffin GSAS flags.

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Vic Hogg.

Student orator Vic Hogg.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Jennifer Doudna and Hugo Noé Morales.
Katalin Karikó and Tom Hanks hug.

Honorands Jennifer Doudna and Hugo Noé Morales Rosas; Katalin Karikó and Tom Hanks.

Photos by Kris Snibbe and Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographers

Graduates from School of Education wave children's books.

Harvard Graduate School of Education graduates hold up children’s books.

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Kyle MertensMeyer.
Mina Mitreva.

Kyle MertensMeyer wears Graduate School of Design building blocks on his cap. Mina Mitreva graduates with a Ph.D. in history.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Wide view of graduates.

The Yard is a sea of crimson-clad grads.

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Larry Bacow waves at podium.

Larry Bacow delivers his final Commencement address as president.

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer