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Interim President Garber Asks Alumni to Stick by Harvard Despite ‘Difficult Year’

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Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 had a speech prepared for Alumni Day about the University’s resilience after a year of nonstop turmoil on campus. But before Garber could begin speaking on Friday, an animal rights activist leaped onstage and doused him with gold glitter.

“Greetings, fellow travelers,” Garber said, his face sparkling gold. “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

The glitter attack was not just one more bizarre event during a year in which Harvard affiliates have learned to expect the unexpected. It also became a rather appropriate metaphor for a speech focused on the University’s efforts to power through adversity.

Garber, acknowledging the University’s “difficult year,” implored alumni to stick by Harvard as it attempts to emerge from crisis and emphasized his administration’s commitment to academic freedom.

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In particular, Garber sought to reassure alumni that the University never strayed from its core mission as an institution of higher education even as the controversy surrounding former University President Claudine Gay’s tenure and the encampment staged by pro-Palestine student activists thrust Harvard into national headlines.

“I cannot recount everything that’s happened over these past two semesters — we would be here through Sunday no doubt — but I can tell you that I have never felt more grateful for what usually happens here,” Garber said. “We learn, and we teach. We devote ourselves to research and scholarship.”

“All of that happens every year,” he added. “It happened this year, too.”

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The glitter attack was not the only protest that took place during the Alumni Day ceremony. A few protesters affiliated with Harvard Alumni for Palestine also walked out of the event.

As Garber ended his speech, the protesters chanted “disclose, divest, we will not stop we will not rest” — a common pro-Palestine protest chant demanding the University cut its financial ties to Israel. The walkout, which featured roughly a dozen protesters, was significantly smaller than the pro-Palestine walkout during Commencement one week earlier.

But it was the glitter attack, which ended with Harvard University Police Department officers arresting the protester, that left the greatest impression on Alumni Day attendees.

After Garber’s speech, outgoing Harvard Alumni Association President Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06 thanked Garber for his composure during the glitter incident.

“I’m just going to say what’s on everybody’s minds,” Moore said. “What a remarkable demonstration of composure to be accosted and have something thrown on him in an aggressive manner and to still be able to stand here with poise and have the strength of mind and the composure to still speak words filled with insight and appreciation for this brilliant alum community is again beyond me.”

Garber also used his Alumni Day address to highlight the University’s recent commitment to refrain from making statements on external events as one example of how Harvard is trying to “rebuild a culture of civility and respect.”

“This approach is intended to preserve open inquiry and academic freedom by making it easier for all members of the community to express their views,” Garber said. “It is a foundational commitment and I am eager to see it implemented.”

The alumni reunion celebrations are particularly important fundraising tools for the University, a purpose that carries extra importance this year as donations have fallen and Garber himself has expressed serious concern over the University’s ability to fundraise. At the event, HAA Executive Director Sarah C. Karmon thanked alumni volunteers, many of whom serve as fundraisers.

“The past eight months have been challenging in so many ways, not just for our campus but for all who hold a special place in their hearts for Harvard,” Karmon said. “On behalf of the leadership of the University, I want to express our deepest gratitude for the unwavering support and invaluable contributions of all of our alumni volunteers.”

The development office and senior administrators have been working nonstop in recent months to repair relationships with disillusioned donors, prioritizing outreach and listening to alumni concerns over aggressively soliciting donations.

Moore asked alumni to work with each other to stay connected to the University “through all the polarizing headlines and challenges before us.”

“This year has underscored the critical importance of ensuring that all members of our community are heard and embraced,” Moore said. “If that’s not the case, we will witness our community become fragmented and disintegrate.”

The festivities on Friday ended with a keynote speech from award-winning actor Courtney B. Vance ’82, who referenced a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. as he emphasized the importance of self-reflection during politically fraught times.

“I challenge you to make choices in the short time we have here on this earth that lift up your neighbor, your colleague, and potentially your enemy,” Vance said.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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