At Harvard Law School, students elected by their peers to serve as class marshals have historically represented their class at graduation and organized social events, such as the end-of-year Barristers Ball.
During a global pandemic when classes are remote and students are living around the country and the world, there is no such thing as business as usual. But this year’s marshals are determined to do their part for their class.
“I think it’s more challenging than usual,” says Armani Madison, a J.D. student who serves as a student attorney for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and is editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, “but it’s also a big opportunity that I think we are well-equipped for.”
Marvellous Iheukwumere, a J.D. student born in Nigeria, who now lives in Austin, Texas, is—like Madison and the other class marshals—active in numerous organizations at HLS, including the African Law Association, the Black Law Students Association, the Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, and the Harvard Immigration Project (in addition to studying this semester at Sciences Po in Paris, where she has been attending classes remotely). Iheukwumere, who before law school was a professional track and field athlete and worked for the NBA, says she decided to run for class marshal because she wanted to use her experience, her connections and her skills to “usher us out of our time here at Harvard and help us have a worthy celebration.”
This year, HLS student government leaders expanded the number of marshals from six to nine, recognizing exceptional circumstances during the pandemic. Madison says that with all nine members tapping into their networks, they are aiming to reach a broad range of students for input and insight.
In addition to being more numerous, this year’s cohort of elected marshals may also be among the most diverse ever. Iheukwumere notes that she is proud “we have such a diversity of perspectives, racial identities, ethnic identities.”
Ikram Ais, a lawyer and human rights educator from Algeria now living in Germany, says as a class marshal, she wants to give her peers a memorable graduation, but she is also focused on community-building during their time in school. For Ais and her fellow LL.M. students in the one-year program, their entire academic experience of Harvard Law School will be remote, but “that does not mean we cannot stick together and get to know each other,” she says. This semester, Ais has been hosting a movie club where students stream films on Kanopy and discuss them afterwards. She also has encouraged other students to connect online and turn on their cameras while they study so they can keep each other company. “I want to build a kind of support system for colleagues,” she says. “We need each other the most at this moment.”
Another class marshal in the LL.M. program, Sidharth Chauhan, an attorney living in Shimla, a city in northern India, agrees. He wants get to know his classmates and “give them the year they deserve,” he says. “They have all worked super hard to be at HLS. They are the super class of 2021.” Chauhan, who focuses on antitrust and law and technology and also runs a project he founded to address the pandemic in rural India, has started a Bollywood dance club for his classmates to have fun and continue to get to know each other. He, Ais, and Fernanda Gomez Balderas—the third LL.M. marshal, an attorney in Mexico City—have also been focusing on what they can do to help the class celebrate the holidays and the New Year.
The nine marshals meet every week. There’s a lot on their agenda, including some of the pre-COVID class marshal mainstays as well as some additions. They have now surveyed their peers for ideas for the Class Day Speaker and for class apparel and are working with the Dean of Student’s Office on next steps. They will be planning this year’s Last Lecture Series, an HLS tradition in which faculty reflect on their own careers and give advice to graduating students. They have been brainstorming events to help the class celebrate, with ideas ranging from themed Zoom parties, to game nights, to scavenger hunts. They will be holding the first in early January.
Next on the agenda is coming up with alternatives to the gala Barristers Ball, which in years past has brought together some 700 students in their finest attire at an elegant Boston venue. This, Madison admits, is going to take some creativity. The marshals are up for the challenge.