JD_Radhe-Patel-_rc_web2 (HLB SU2020)

Pomp and Circumstance

Separated by a pandemic, the resilient Class of 2020 still found ways to connect

On Commencement day, family framed the moment for graduating student Radhe Patel (third from left).

On May 28, 2020, Harvard Law students gathered to celebrate their graduation. The gathering did not take place at the foot of Langdell Hall, but rather in living rooms and backyards worldwide, from Cambridge to California, from New Zealand to the Netherlands, at all hours of the day and night.

Onyi Iyizoba with her two daughters

Onyi Iyizoba LL.M. returned to Nigeria to celebrate her graduation with her two daughters, ages 5 and 3, and other family members. It was an especially festive reunion, said Iyizoba.

Some bought or borrowed regalia to mark the occasion. Others donned crimson Harvard gear. Some gathered in large groups of loved ones—masked and socially distancing, of course—to celebrate outdoors, while others reveled inside with their immediate families or, in some cases, alone. The graduates made the most of an unusual circumstance—a milestone achievement, celebrated miles away from the friends, faculty and campus that had shaped so much of their law school experience.

But no matter. Like so many graduations, the occasion remained festive, emotional, exciting and bittersweet. In a livestreamed virtual ceremony, graduates tuned in as Dean John F. Manning ’85 shared his affection and admiration for the Class of 2020, the first that began and ended their time at HLS entirely under his tenure. Staff appreciation award winner Jordana Arias—program administrator of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program—and teaching award winner Professor David B. Wilkins ’80 expressed their certainty that the graduating class, facing unprecedented challenges, would rise to the occasion with compassion and resilience. Class Day speaker Bryan Stevenson ’85  urged students to remember the difference between law and justice, and to retain the hope that had propelled them this far.

Daniel Moubayed

Daniel Moubayed described a silver lining of a virtual commencement: “Graduation day felt very different because my family and I were together, sharing stories, feelings, and emotions. I wasn’t a head in a crowd passing on a stage and getting my name called once.”

At home, graduates celebrated with parents, spouses, children and friends. Daniel Moubayed ’20 celebrated in Florida with his parents and fiancée, who decorated his parents’ home with a 6-foot congratulatory sign, balloons, confetti, and homemade gavel-shaped cookies and cake pops to mark the occasion.

Before the pandemic hit, Onyi Iyizoba LL.M. ’20 had looked forward to her husband and two daughters, ages 5 and 3, flying to Cambridge to celebrate her graduation. Instead, she returned home early to Nigeria and quarantined for two weeks, rejoining her family two days before graduation. The joy of the family reunion mingled with the graduation celebration to create an especially festive air, though her daughters remained skeptical throughout that she could really be graduating unless she wore a cap and gown.

Those still in Cambridge, such as Zainab Hashmi ’20, found themselves strolling toward campus after the ceremony, eager to run into friends and share part of the day together. Friends farther away checked in with texts and photos of their own celebrations.

Zainab Hashmi with his family at the Harvard Law School on Commencement day

Zainab Hashmi celebrated via video with far-away family and friends, before returning to campus to celebrate with her husband and children, ages 6 and 4. “I feel like it’s not just me who attended HLS,” she said. “It was also the three of us, who shared that journey with me in a very physical and emotional manner.”

On the other side of the world in Poland, Agnieszka Regiec LL.M. ’20, wearing a burgundy jumpsuit, teared up as the names of her fellow graduates flashed on the screen, and her parents shouted with joy at the sight of hers. She looks forward to returning to campus to celebrate with her friends as soon as possible, she said, but she appreciated sharing her joyful memories with the parents and fiancé who had supported her journey, and who might not have been able to attend a faraway graduation in Cambridge.

Agnieszka Regiec holding a hashtag HLS2020 sign

Agnieszka Regiec stayed in touch with classmates throughout the virtual ceremony, who she said all took away something from Commencement that “gave them peace, closure and maybe goose bumps that we actually graduated from Harvard.”

To celebrate the graduation of Olivia Barket ’20, her mother, who had not attended college, pulled out all the stops. She rented a big screen and invited friends of the family to attend a drive-in-movie-inspired graduation ceremony, where attendees could watch safely from their cars. “We all have these conceptions in our head of what a celebration should look like, and what certain moments are supposed to be,” Barket said. But in some ways this moment was more special than it would have been, because so many people who helped raise me could share in that moment, too.”

Olivia Barket celebrates at her family Commencement celebration

Nearly 50 people attended Olivia Barket’s drive-in celebration just outside Orlando, Florida.