Student Speaker Dramatically Goes Off-Script at Harvard Graduation


A Harvard University student speaker put the institution on blast Thursday morning when she dramatically went off script during her commencement address to slam the school for punishing more than a dozen of her peers for their activism.

Shruthi Kumar, the Harvard senior chosen to deliver the English address, sharply reprimanded the university leaders during her time at the podium. During her speech—which was titled “The Power of Not Knowing”—Kumar drew out a piece of paper containing off-script remarks hidden up the sleeve of her crimson gown.

“As I stand here today, I must take a moment to recognize my peers—the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 that will not graduate today,” Kumar told the crowd. She was referring to the 13 students who had been denied the opportunity to walk at commencement over the sanctions they’d received for participating in campus pro-Palestinian protests.

“I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and their right to civil disobedience on campus,” she continued. “The students have spoken. The faculty have spoken. Harvard, do you hear us?”

“Harvard, do you hear us?” she repeated.

The Surreal Difference Between Harvard and Columbia Protests

In response, Kumar received a standing ovation from the crowd, including some of the faculty. The rest of her remarks covered the war in Gaza, the experience of being doxxed for her views, and what she characterized as attacks on free speech and free expression.

Kumar’s fiery indictment of her school was the latest in a wave of protests at Harvard’s commencement ceremonies, sparked by its highest governing body’s decision to deny a faculty-led action that would allow 13 students who participated in pro-Palestinian protests to walk at their commencement ceremony.

On Thursday morning, several protesters silently held up a banner calling attention to the suffering in Gaza and rallied in support of their peers who had been prevented from receiving their degrees. Meanwhile, pro-Israel counterprotesters flew planes high in the sky, trailing U.S. and Israeli flags and a slogan that read, “Jewish Lives Matter.US.”

Students Won’t Stop Protesting for Palestine, Even During Their Own Graduations

Kumar was one of three students who won the honor to speak at graduation through an annual contest hosted by the university. In a Harvard Gazette feature on her and the other winners, Kumar previewed a very different message that was more anchored in the personal than the political: She spoke of embracing change in the context of her own decision to switch from a pre-med career track to a path in public health.

“At the end of the day, I think we owe it to ourselves to listen to that voice inside that tells us, ‘Oh, this is what I’m passionate about,’” Kumar said then.

But Kumar is also an accomplished yogi who focuses on mental health practice and mindfulness. Ahead of her speech, with its message to embrace the chaos, she told the Harvard Gazette that her remarks would be about the “conscious shift you must make” to adapt in times of uncertainty.

Zip-Tie-Wearing Columbia Grad Rips Up Diploma on Commencement Stage

“We are all people walking through the world, not really knowing what’s going to happen,” she said. “But the power of not knowing is about how you can turn that space of fear and anxiety into something that is empowering, uplifting, and exciting.”

In off-roading at commencement, Kumar apparently excelled at taking her own advice.

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