AS THE SCHOOL MOVED ONLINE following the onset of the pandemic, so did the rich variety of events outside the classroom. The Institute of Politics quickly pivoted to a “Fast Forum” format, allowing dozens of speakers and thousands of participants to continue to meet online through the spring and summer.

One of the School’s biggest annual gatherings—its graduation celebrations—also went virtual. The Class of 2020’s 605 graduates tuned in from 85 countries and 42 U.S. states, along with friends and family, to hear remarks by Dean Doug Elmendorf and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of GAVI, the global vaccine alliance; special advisor to the World Health Organization on the COVID-19 response; and former finance minister of Nigeria.

“When I received the invitation to speak prior to the pandemic, I wanted to speak on public service, reflect on and share my experience, and share why public service matters, even if at times it seems thankless,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “I wanted to press all of you to carry on and never lose your passion. With social distancing and lock-ins—the brave new words in our vocabulary—I thought the topic even more relevant.”

“A final intertwined lesson that we learn from this crisis is the lesson of leadership and the generosity of the human spirit,” she told the audience, echoing Mahatma Gandhi. “Even in these difficult and uncertain times, even as you face the world not quite sure what it has in store for you, be bold, be courageous, be selfless! Go out and lose yourself in the service of others!”

Headshot of HKS Professor Leah Wright Rigueur.

“The protests we see now are about the overlapping failures of America.”

Professor Leah Wright Rigueur at a June event on race, protests, and democracy hosted by the Ash Center.

Headshot of Sumbul Siddiqui, mayor of Cambridge.

“I really wanted to merge my interest in policy and public service together, and for me, in elected office, I think I saw that opportunity.”


Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui speaking at an IOP Fast Forum in April

Headshot of Washington Post reporter Lena Sun.

“Back in those days, we couldn’t get much attention for these stories because of impeachment and politics.”

Washington Post reporter Lena Sun talking about the early days of the pandemic at an April Fast Forum

Headshot of Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern.

“We need to make sure that the people can vote and that everybody who’s eligible to vote has that right to vote.”

Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern speaking on the need for accessibility to voting during the pandemic at a March Fast Forum

Headshot of Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

“The coronavirus is demonstrating, literally, the foundation of unions—that an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, at a March event on labor issues

Headshot of Former House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“There’s going to be a big fight for the soul of the conservative movement in the post-Trump era.”

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan at a Fast Forum in April

Photos by Martha Stewart

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