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Unconcerned by Crowds, Bacow Says He Hopes Commencement Will Help Local Businesses

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As Harvard prepares to host two Commencement ceremonies in four days this spring, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said he is unconcerned about the hordes of people who will be traveling to campus for the events.

The University will hold a joint Commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, which graduated online due to the pandemic. The exercises will take place on May 29, just days after the Class of 2022’s Commencement exercises.

Bacow said in an interview Thursday he hopes the crowds the events attract will help local businesses.

“The businesses in the area have suffered greatly during the course of the pandemic,” he said. “By actually detaching reunion from Commencement and having two separate Commencements close together but not exactly at the same time, we actually create more opportunities for local area businesses.”

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The Commencement ceremonies will be closely followed by in-person reunions for class years ending in two or seven. Bacow said he is confident in the University’s ability to handle the large number of alumni, graduates, and families who are expected to flock to Cambridge for the events.

“I’m not concerned about the sheer number of people,” Bacow said. “We know how to handle big crowds.”

Bacow also said Thursday that the school decided against holding separate ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 due to difficulties in planning. He had previously committed to hosting in-person celebrations with “as much pomp and circumstance” as traditional Commencement Exercises.

“Logistically, there’s just a huge amount of planning that goes on for all of these,” he said. “And as a practical matter, separating the two — the Classes of 2020 and 2021 — into two separate Commencements would be beyond challenging. We also recognize that, as a practical matter, not everybody is going to come back for these Commencements.”

He added that the school expects more College graduates to return for the ceremony than alumni from the University’s professional schools.

“We believe we’ll have no difficulty in accommodating everybody in one ceremony,” he said. “It was our goal to have something that is as close to a traditional Commencement as we’re capable of doing.”

Bacow said the two ceremonies will have separate speakers, who have already been selected. He declined, however, to reveal who the school has tapped.

Harvard has pledged to offer on-campus housing accommodations for returning graduates, subject to limited availability. The University will also provide financial assistance for graduates who require assistance with travel costs.

“We anticipate being able to provide aid to those who need it, and we don’t anticipate that everybody will need it,” Bacow said.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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