Thinking back to our first letter as students: “the answer is YES,” we could never have imagined where it would take us. The last twenty-four months have been hard for nearly everyone, but it has also been filled with so much to be thankful for and so much to celebrate!

My name is Abby Burcham, I am from Section H, and I served as the HBS Chief Community Officer for the Class of 2021. I was responsible for using the Student Association’s resources to nurture student life for the nearly 2,000 MBA and PhD students who call HBS home.

And my name is Ryan Flamerich. I’m a proud member of Section C, and I served as the HBS Head Senator for the Class of 2021. I led the Student Association’s student legislature. Together, we are responsible for leading the HBS Class Day program.

Formal graduation for all Harvard students is managed by Harvard University. The President and Fellows of Harvard College are responsible for organizing the university-wide events traditionally held in Tercentenary Theater within Harvard Yard. Class Day is an HBS-specific program that looks to close out each student’s experience on campus. It includes addresses by distinguished speakers, members of the graduating class, and faculty members. In the past, the event has traditionally been held outside on Baker Lawn.

When we assumed our roles last year, we had about two weeks before classes moved online, and our Class Day responsibilities required us to rethink what graduation looks like during COVID-19. HBS made the decision to spearhead hybrid learning for the 2020-2021 academic year, making us the only school at Harvard with active in-person learning for its entire community. We knew early on many of the Harvard-wide graduation celebrations would be virtual. What we did not know was what could be done for our HBS on-campus community.

Planning for Class Day 2021 started in October 2020 and quickly evolved into a series of experiences that would provide students the opportunity to say goodbye to their sections, wear a cap and gown for photos, and recognize everyone’s individual accomplishment of graduating from Harvard Business School! We led a team of administrators, students, and faculty to balance the possible with the realities of an evolving pandemic.

The result became four marquee events during the week between the end of classes and final exams. The events included:

  • Section Closure: HBS created one of the world’s largest hybrid classrooms in the state-of-the-art Klarman Auditorium. It allowed an entire section to come together, including those who were no longer in Boston, one last time to create a formal end to the HBS signature section experience.
  • Section Send-off: Students gathered on Baker Lawn to celebrate the individual accomplishment of graduating from HBS. Each student walked across a riser with their section president calling their name. Each student received a custom HBS 2021 class cap to commemorate the experience.
  • Section Social: Sections came together to sign class name cards and class yearbooks.
  • Cap and Gown Photo Station: Professional photographers were invited to campus to allow students to take photos in a cap and gown provided by HBS. Families who live together were able to take a group photo to celebrate their collective “graduation” from HBS.

These events created a sense of celebration and community that campus has not experienced since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While they do not replace the special pomp and circumstance a traditional Harvard graduation brings, they allowed members of the HBS Class of 2021 an opportunity to come together to close out what are no doubt two of the most significant years in our lives. This programming did not replace formal Class Day though!

Formal Class Day will still occur via a livestream format on May 27th! We are excited to have Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, as our Class Day Speaker to provide parting wisdom; Dean Datar will speak to his first class of graduating students as Dean; and student speaker Sara McLaughlin Figel and the Student Association Co-Presidents Annie Plachta and Caleb Bradford will provide their final thoughts to the class. The HBS film studio on campus will be open to film the elements of Class Day and create a production the Class of 2021 will never forget.

We will be emceeing the festivities starting at 9:30 am on May 27th. You can access the livestream at

When large in-person gatherings can safely return, Harvard University and HBS have promised to invite the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 back to campus for a traditional Commencement and Class Day.