Harvard Extension's Inaugural Convocation Honors 400 Students

A crisp, autumn day with nary a cloud in the sky provided the perfect backdrop for the nearly 1,000 people gathered at the Memorial Church for Harvard Extension School’s inaugural convocation on Saturday.

The crowd’s excitement was palpable and sounds from the Harvard Krokodiloes floated through the air as 400 admitted degree candidates, their families and friends took pictures, hugged classmates and filled the pews.

“Today is about you,” said Huntington D. Lambert, dean of the Division of Continuing Education and University Extension. “It truly is a testament to your determination and academic fearlessness that you have achieved this momentous goal. You have proved that you can do the work of this great institution.”

Lambert spoke about the need to foster a welcoming atmosphere for the global community the Harvard Extension School (HES) serves, saying that even though they come from vastly different backgrounds, the desire and commitment to learning is a trait shared by all its students.

The idea for Harvard Extension’s convocation was the brainchild of Cheniece Kelleher, A.L.M. ’18, Payum Noshiravan, A.L.M. candidate, and La’Toya Princess Jackson, A.L.M. candidate. The three submitted the suggestion as part of the Dean of Student’s Community Building Challenge in 2017.

Jackson said it was important for Harvard Extension to build a strong, inclusive community. She said the demand for an event to bring together degree candidates, many of whom are online and distance learners, was high and the convocation was a way to honor their academic milestone.

“Today has exceeded all of my expectations,” said Jackson.

Degree candidate La’Toya Princess Jackson (left) was one of three students who suggested the convocation. “Today has exceeded all of my expectations,” said Jackson. Photo by Alex Gagne

Degree candidates from as far as Tel Aviv and South Africa and as near as Cambridge displayed the School’s global reach.

“It was great to be here today and feel part of the larger Harvard community,” said A.L.B. degree candidate Trésor de la Vigne. “Seeing so many degree candidates in one place, in Memorial Church, was really inspiring.”

The Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, welcomed the crowd with a moving history of the church. He encouraged degree candidates to “be inspired by this space, just as we are inspired by all of you.”

A.L.B. candidate Joseph Obleton, a Navy veteran from Florida, said a friend encouraged him to attend HES after serving 22 years in the military. The retired language/intelligence analyst says he has a high academic drive and wanted to come to Harvard for his studies. “Being able to pursue my degree and received high-level instruction from the faculty at Harvard has made this an incredibly rewarding experience for me.”

Keynote speaker Fernando Reimers, Ed.D. ’88, Ford Foundation Professor of the Practice of International Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, discussed his experience teaching at HES, describing it as special because the students’ learning, life, career, and global perspectives enrich class discussions.

He also touched on the importance of an education and called on degree candidates to go out into the world and use their Harvard education for social and civic good.

“This is an extraordinary time to choose to align one’s life to advance the audacious proposition that people are fundamentally equal, capable of self-rule, and capable of working with others to improve the communities of which they are a part,” said Reimers. “To the extent that in the work we do together, in the years you devote to your studies at Extension, we succeed in helping you build yourselves up to advance those values, the Extension School will have truly lived up to the aspiration of taking Harvard to Pontiac, Mich., and of improving the world.”

This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette on Oct. 3, 2018. 

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