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A Letter From Harvard’s Faculty Deans to the Class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to have time. Time to celebrate you, indulge you, and offer you a space to prepare emotionally for your next chapter. We wanted to meet your parents, step-parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends; make small talk, make jokes, share stories. We were looking forward to corralling you — all of us in full regalia — at the crack of dawn on Commencement day, so we could march in procession with you to the Yard (parting a sea of cars and watching passersby smile). We had plans to sit among you in Memorial Hall for an uplifting senior chapel. And finally, back at the House, after all the formalities in the Yard were over, we were ready (full of emotions ourselves) to hand each of you your diplomas as your names were called, to give each of you one last handshake or (more likely) hug, while your loved ones watched proudly under a warm May sky (or a downpour, which seems to happen suspiciously often on graduation day).

Still, alongside all these regrets, we also feel a lot of gratitude. We cherish the semesters we did have together. We are so glad that we had as many chances as we did to play with you and work with you. We feel honored to have been able to watch you grow, and to grow with you. We are grateful to have been trusted with your friendship.

In the weeks since you all departed from campus, we have thought about you every day. Our hearts ache for those of you struggling with illness, or caring for ill members of your families. We worry about those of you who have seen parents lose jobs; or who have lost jobs and opportunities of your own. But we also marvel at your resilience and generosity: the ways that you have adapted to dramatically new ways of learning, socializing, and living; the impulse so many of you have shown to serve, to help, to give back; the kindness with which you have supported one another. None of us can choose the historical moment into which we are thrust, but we can choose how we respond. And you have all responded with such grace, creativity, and courage. That makes us very proud.

As the semester now winds down, we wish for so much for all of you: good health and safety, first and foremost, but also meaningful work, moments of joy and fun, and friendships that nurture and enlarge you. We are glad that there will be a chance, at least virtually, to celebrate all of you later this week. And we are even more comforted and energized by the University’s firm promise that, when the health risks of this time recede, we will all gather in the Houses again to renew friendships in ways that are not possible at a distance. It will be all the sweeter, all the more meaningful, for having been deferred.


Anne Harrington is the Chair of the Faculty Deans of Harvard College and the Faculty Dean of Pforzheimer House.

This letter was written, reviewed, and submitted by the Faculty Deans of all twelve Houses and the Resident Dean of the Dudley Community.