College

Wu emphasizes truth at Harvard Class Day

"Tell the truth when it’s hard, and uncomfortable, and complex."

Michelle Wu was the featured speaker at the Harvard College Class of 2022 Class Day exercises at Harvard Yard. Jonathan Wiggs /Boston Globe Staff

On Wednesday, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu took the stage at Harvard’s Class Day ceremony to offer remarks, reflections, and advice. Wu, who graduated from Harvard in 2007, was one of multiple speakers during the first in-person Class Day ceremony since 2019. 

Wu began by reminiscing about her days in Harvard Yard, and told the crowd that she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and barely knew anything about politics when she began attending the prestigious university. 

“Fifteen years ago I sat in your very seats. So maybe what qualifies me most of all to share some insights at Class Day is that I’m proof that you can go from having absolutely no idea what you want to do at Class Day to mayor of the greatest city on the planet,” she said. 

As an undergraduate student, Wu studied economics and lived in Currier House. She became involved in music and community service in Chinatown. Wu now serves on the senior advisory committee of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.

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The core of Wu’s speech was centered on one word: “veritas,” Harvard’s Latin motto meaning “truth.” Since leaving Harvard, Wu said, she’s learned three key things about the concept of truth. 

Number one: A person’s “deep truth” is the basis for their happiness and health. She urged those listening to take care of themselves, to figure out why they get up each morning, and to listen to their bodies to know when something is wrong. 

Number two: Find out what is “truly real.” There is no replacement for lived experiences, Wu said. To solve a problem in the world, one must first understand what that problem feels like by seeking out those closest to the issue and those who will be most impacted by its solution. 

Number three: A person should tell the truth, even when it is difficult.

“Tell the truth when it’s hard, and uncomfortable, and complex — and to the extent that you can, hold people through it if they need to be held. But tell the truth — tell it so that we can build and rebuild the trust that’s needed for our brightest future,” she said. 

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Wu ended her remarks by focusing on courage, on being unafraid to actually do the work that is needed to make meaningful change. The mayor shared a historical anecdote about Boston’s subway, the first in the country. Before officials broke ground on the subway system, Wu said, business owners along Tremont Street formed an “Anti-Subway League.” They opposed the creation of any subway lines in the city, and garnered support from many residents who were afraid. They were afraid of bringing a curse onto the city, Wu said, or even of awakening underground snakes that would overrun Boston. 

“Let’s let go of our instincts to protect the status quo,” Wu said. “Harness your leadership, and charisma, and knowledge to help others do the same, so that we can all focus more on what we could create if we agree to get our hands dirty and break ground, rather than worrying about what snakes might lurk beneath the surface.”

Also this week, Wu is planning to address graduating classes at Bunker Hill Community College and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Earlier Wednesday, Wu announced a variety of initiatives targeted at keeping residents safe throughout the summer. This includes the Community Ambassadors Program, which will aim to help those who are vulnerable to gun and gang related violence.

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She also reinstated Operation Homefront, which partners with Boston Police and other local leaders to build relationships with individual families.

The Adopt a Block initiative is also being reinstated, which will support faith institutions’ efforts to help residents in neighborhoods that have experienced recent violence.

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