Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana and University President Claudine Gay welcomed the Class of 2027 to Harvard at Convocation during a ceremony Monday marked by tradition, speeches, and activism.
As has been the case in recent years, the ceremony — which was hosted in Tercentenary Theatre — was punctuated by shouts of protest by members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, who also held banners during the ceremony.
Gay, addressing freshmen at her first Convocation as president, opened the ceremony with an anecdote about her childhood frustration with — and eventual acceptance of — her lack of a middle name.
“Probably at several points between now and your Commencement, you will feel insufficient,” Gay said. “When that happens, I hope you remember this story and my parents’ wisdom. You have been given a name and it is all that you need to make a name for yourself.”
In his address, Khurana took aim at what he described as an increasing mistrust of and narrowing focus on the benefits of higher education.
“We can see evidence of the decline in confidence in higher education all around us — in attacks on academic freedom on campuses, and deep cuts for liberal arts and sciences programs, most recently at West Virginia University,” Khurana said of the public university that in August moved to eliminate 169 faculty positions.
Khurana also seemed to indirectly allude to the national conversation about the merits of affirmative action and diversity in college admissions — discussions that have found a battleground at Harvard. Over the summer, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of affirmative action, and Harvard is currently facing an investigation from the Department of Education over its legacy and donor preferences.
“In a society with such deep economic inequality, it is not unreasonable to ask what role higher education and liberal arts and sciences education plays in social and economic mobility, and to ask what role they ought to play,” Khurana said. “Despite our multi-year efforts, we still need to do much more to broaden the socioeconomic diversity of our institutions.”
As Khurana concluded his remarks, a raised voice pierced the quiet.
“Dean Khurana, you talk about equity, you talk about justice, you talk about truth,” Asmer A. Safi ’23-’24 shouted following Khurana’s address. “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians.”
In an emailed statement, College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to directly address the interruption.
“Freedom of expression is essential to a liberal arts and sciences education,” Palumbo wrote.
Clyve Lawrence ’25, an organizer spearheading the movement to wipe the Winthrop name from an upperclassman house and a Crimson Editorial editor, also shouted “Dename Winthrop” following the ceremony’s land acknowledgment.
Activists have called on Harvard to remove the Winthrop name due to its namesakes’ connections to slavery and treatment of Indigenous peoples.
In her address, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh underscored the importance of protecting academic freedom, referencing recent moves from state leaders in Texas and Florida to restrict curriculum and limit tenure at state universities.
“As we watch the governors of some states eradicate tenure and outlaw the teaching of certain subjects,” Claybaugh said. “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in those states.”
Claybaugh also called upon the incoming class to take part in uncomfortable intellectual experiences within and outside of the classroom, including reading books they may “find offensive” and living alongside students whose worldview is “fundamentally opposed” to their own.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Dean of Students Thomas Dunne, Alumni Association President Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06, and Harvard Undergraduate Association Co-Presidents John S. Cooke ’25 and Shikoh Misu Hirabayashi ’24, who presented the class banner.
The pageantry concluded with a singing of “Fair Harvard” — the school alma mater — and thunderous shouts from freshman students celebrating their freshman dorms.