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Jiang He, a graduate student from the Zhuang Research Lab, has been chosen as the graduate student winner of Harvard’s 2016 Commencement Student Orations Competition. Jiang’s speech will discuss the unequal distribution of knowledge throughout the world, and what can be done to improve the dissemination of knowledge, based on his own experiences growing up in the rural Hunan Province in Southern China.
“The speech begins with a personal story of me being bitten by a poisonous spider when I was in middle school,” Jiang said. “In order to prevent the venom from spreading, my mom ended up setting my hand on fire for the cure.”
Without access to modern medicine, Jiang’s mother could only rely on this extreme folk remedy. This, and many other similar incidents from his childhood, were the inspiration for his speech.
“If we recall the scientific development in the early 2000s, a modern treatment for spider’s bite definitely existed,” Jiang said. “So this nagging question of why I didn’t receive a better treatment made me rethink the spread of scientific knowledge, or knowledge in general in our world.”
The three winning speeches will be delivered from memory during the Morning Exercises of Commencement on May 26th. Traditionally, one speech is given by a graduate student, and two by undergraduates, one of which will  be in Latin.
The first round of competition involves judges combing through hundreds of potential speeches, submitted electronically by students. The choices are narrowed down to about a dozen in each of the three categories for the first round of auditions, then down to about a dozen total for the final round.
“We don’t have to memorize the speech at the auditions. The judges will allow us to read the draft to them, and they will judge which one has a good message and fits the spirit of commencement day,” Jiang said.
“Jiang is truly outstanding in many ways,” Professor Xiaowei Zhuang said. “He is not only highly creative and capable, but most importantly, he is fearless. He is never afraid of new challenges and always willing to go out of his comfort zone to explore new things, and amazingly, in a short period of time, he turns himself into an expert in these new areas. He makes an advisor’s job a sheer pleasure and I am really proud of him.”
After graduation, Jiang will begin his postdoc through MIT at the Koch Institute for Cancer Research.
“My research topic will be using engineered liver to study malaria and hepatitis virus infection, as well as ultrasensitive early cancer diagnostics,” Jiang said. “My work at Harvard focuses on developing single molecule imaging techniques and applying them to study biological processes. By applying single-virus tracking, super-resolution imaging, and other imaging techniques in combination with conventional biochemical and cellular approaches, my work elucidates molecular mechanisms of several host factors for flu virus infection, and prevalence and developmental mechanism of a novel periodic membrane skeleton in neurons.”
For now, Jiang is looking forward to commencement as a chance to share his experiences with his peers.
“For me, from the point I started to write the speech draft until I got selected, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to reflect my time spent at Harvard,” Jiang said. “It also gave me a better sense of what I want to do after graduation. I would definitely recommend others to give it a try.”

Read more inthe Harvard Gazette

Graduate Speaker Jiang He addresses graduates at Harvard’s 365th Commencement