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Commencement Events

Commencement consists of two days of celebratory events, including a reception with the dean and the degree-granting ceremony.

Overview of Events

Dean’s Reception

The afternoon before Commencement, Dean Emma Dench hosts an informal reception for degree candidates and their guests.

Commencement Exercises

Degree Candidates Arrive

All degree candidates gather at the Lawns at Richards Hall to pick up flags, say hello, and take photos with fellow graduates and deans. Light breakfast items (pastries, tea, and coffee) will be available. Harvard Yard opens for all guests at 6:45 a.m. Guests who wish to secure a seat should head directly to the Yard before/at this time and should not come to the Lawns at Richards Hall.

Harvard Griffin GSAS Parade and Procession Formation

The streets are closed for a parade of Harvared Griffin GSAS graduating students led by bagpipers down Oxford Street, an event not to be missed. (Guests with tickets for the Commencement Exercises may enter the Yard beginning at 6:45 a.m. if they wish to secure a seat.)

If you do not join the parade, please proceed directly to Tercentenary Theatre no later than 8:45 a.m. and find a seat for the Commencement Exercises in the Harvard Griffin GSAS section. Seating may not be available in the Harvard Griffin GSAS section after the procession into Tercentenary Theatre.

Academic Procession

This is Harvard’s big pomp and circumstance moment. Over 32,000 people fill Tercentenary Theatre in Harvard Yard, and it’s the one time all the University’s Schools are together. It’s a delight to watch in person, with commentary via simulcast in the Science Center or Maxwell Dworkin, or via livestream at

Guest Admittance for Diploma Awarding Ceremony

Guests not attending the Commencement Exercises but who plan to attend the Diploma Awarding Ceremony may gather at Sanders Theatre. Those with red balcony tickets may sit inside Sanders while those with white general admission tickets are seated temporarily in Annenberg Hall. Both locations will simulcast the Commencement Exercises.

The Ceremony

After the procession is complete and graduating students, faculty, and guests are seated, the deans of each School introduce their candidates for degrees and the Harvard President confers each degree to all graduates collectively. 

PhD recipients are called first and are responsible for setting the tone for the entire Commencement. When the Provost asks you to stand, leap up, cheer, and wave your flags. When the President finishes the conferral of the degree and says congratulations, yell, cheer, and wave your flags. Be the loudest, most enthusiastic School in the Yard! The Provost then calls the Harvard Griffin GSAS and SEAS master’s recipients; please follow the lead of the PhDs with similar enthusiasm. 

Please note: You do not receive your diploma at this time. Diplomas are distributed during the Diploma Awarding Ceremony in Sanders Theatre unless you have already picked up your diploma (November/March graduates) or elected to have it mailed.

Commencement Exercises include student orations, the conferral of degrees, the Commencement Speaker address, and the presentation of honorary degrees.

Once Commencement Exercises conclude, PhD and terminal master’s degree recipients who registered for the Diploma Awarding Ceremony should make their way as quickly as possible to Sanders Theatre (en route master’s graduates may proceed directly to the Champagne Reception and Luncheon). Meet up with your guests after, not before; it will be too hard to find them in the crowds leaving Tercentenary Theatre.

Diploma Awarding Ceremony

The Commencement lanyard supplied when you pick up your Commencement information contains a colored ticket, which designates your seating location in Sanders Theatre. Harvard Griffin GSAS staff will be on hand to direct you to your section. All terminal master’s degree and PhD graduates must be seated in the mezzanine and orchestra sections before the ceremony begins.

During the first half of the ceremony, degree recipients should exit the Theatre after receiving their diploma, at which time their guests should follow. Those who receive their diplomas during the second half of the ceremony after the interlude should return to their seats; their guests may remain seated until the end of the ceremony. A professional photographer will take photos as degree recipients cross the stage—guests may not stand in the aisles to take photographs.

Guest Seating for the Diploma Awarding Ceremony

Because space is limited, guest seating will be staggered so that your guests can see you cross the stage. Guests with red tickets will be admitted to the balcony. Guests holding white tickets will be seated in the mezzanine until the section is filled. The remaining guests with white tickets will be seated in Annenberg Hall where they can view the proceedings via simulcast until it is time to be ushered into the Theatre to watch their candidate cross the stage.

Don’t worry: your ticketed guests will be seated in Sanders in time to see you cross the stage. 

Champagne Reception and Luncheon

The Harvard Griffin GSAS Champagne Reception and Luncheon provides you and your guests with a festive meal on campus. Plan to meet your guests here to celebrate this momentous occasion. Champagne and a gourmet boxed lunch is served from 12:30 p.m. to approximately 3:00 p.m. to accommodate those attending the Diploma Awarding Ceremony in Sanders Theatre.

Graduate PhD Hooding Ceremonies

Engineering and Applied Sciences

The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) hosts a PhD hooding ceremony following the Luncheon. This ceremony begins at 4:00 p.m. at the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston.

Division of Medical Sciences

The Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) hosts a graduate hooding ceremony for graduates following the Luncheon. This ceremony begins at 5:00 p.m. at the New Research Building in Longwood.

Events Calendar