In her annual Baccalaureate address Tuesday, University President Drew G. Faust entreated soon-to-be College graduates to tell their own stories à la the musical “Hamilton”—but “don’t forget from whence you came.”
With more than 1,000 graduating seniors packed into the pews of Memorial Church, Faust delivered an alternately lighthearted and serious recap of the Class of 2016’s tenure at Harvard. During her address, she mused on memories from The Game to the mumps.
Faust also poked fun at herself with a jocular nod to the “Holiday Placemat for Social Justice” that sparked controversy on campus last December.
“Now this is a daunting task, especially since over the course of four years, I have succeeded in disconcerting people on all sides of many issues that you will soon be discussing with parents and grandparents over dinner,” Faust said, opening her address. “So in addition to a speech, for handy reference, I’ve created a placemat for Commencement, filled with useful phrases such as, ‘it’s final club without an ‘s.’”
In the more pensive second half of her address, Faust drew on the musical Hamilton, centering her remarks on the rhetorical question posed in the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”
“Who will tell your story? You,” she said.
Urging students to “not throw away your shot,” Faust recounted words of wisdom from the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes—who let nobody else finish his sentences, Faust said—and Congressman John R. Lewis, who joined Faust in dedicating a plaque earlier this year to four enslaved persons who lived and worked on Harvard’s campus.
“Titus, Venus, Bilhah, Juba. Their lives changed our story. After three centuries, they have a voice,” Faust said. “They, too, are Harvard.”
The annual Baccalaureate service, which Faust described as an “ancient and curious custom,” kicks off three days of Commencement exercises. The service opened with a series of prayers, hymns, and readings in an array of languages, as well as a brief salutation from Jonathan L. Walton, the Pusey Minister in Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.
Beginning around 1:45 p.m., the Class of 2016—donning billowing black robes—snaked around the Yard and into the Church, pausing for the occasional photo.
“I’m paying tuition—her job is to smile, wave, and be nice when I’m taking pictures!” said Marian S. Bleeke, aiming a camera at her daughter Laura M. Bleeke ’16.
Actress Rashida L. Jones ’97 will address the graduating seniors at the College’s Class Day on Wednesday, while renowned filmmaker Steven Spielberg will speak at Harvard’s 365th Commencement Thursday.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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