349th: A Lovefest
Rain never falls on a Harvard Commencement, but it descended in Biblical volume on the Phi Beta Kappa and baccalaureate processions two days...
Rain never falls on a Harvard Commencement, but it descended in Biblical volume on the Phi Beta Kappa and baccalaureate processions two days earlier, on June 6. A nor'easter dumped 4.76 inches and brought raw cold. Members of the twenty-fifth reunion class were grateful for the souvenir fleece vests provided them.
The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey minister in the Memorial Church, conferred with the marshals of the senior class, who huddled with classmates under a tent in the Old Yard before the baccalaureate service. Considering the downpour, said Gomes, perhaps it would be convenient for the class to take a shortcut to the church, instead of the traditional, long route that passes by the statue of John Harvard. The choice was theirs, he said, but it did seem a shame to let a little rain dampen spirits in the year 2000.
|Seniors take shelter before their baccalaureate procession. Decanting the tent is first marshal Justin M. Krebs '00, of Mather House and Highland Park, New Jersey. He would deliver the Undergraduate English Oration--one of the student "parts" in the formal Commencement exercises --and speak of the superiority of a hug to a handshake. Photo by Jim Harrison|
"The long way," chorused the class marshals and emitted a lusty cheer. Off the procession moved at quickstep, scattering a group of Japanese tourists admiring John Harvard, to whom the seniors doffed their caps (at least those seniors who had heard Gomes's instructions).
James R. Schlesinger '50, Ph.D. '56, former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, after a service at Memorial Church that symbolically re-collected the living and dead of the class. Photo by Kris Snide
In days within living memory, students shunned baccalaureate. In 1970 President Nathan M. Pusey got up into the pulpit to speak of "extremist splinter groups of the New Left" who "would like to see our colleges and universities denigrated, maligned, and even shut down." Only 63 seniors listened. By 1980 the church was full of students and their families and friends. President Derek C. Bok used to begin his baccalaureate addresses by saying that the service had lost most of its religious significance--until Gomes asked him to stop saying that. Now, not even the Deluge will keep seniors away. They pack the pews and aisles and leave no room in church for parents. "The occasion is both joyful and solemn, intimate and public, filled with the exuberance of youth and sustained by venerable and weighty tradition," according to Gomes, who might equally be speaking of Commencement day itself--attended this year by both Pusey, 93, and Bok.
Are the multitudes of the current era brought to church by conservative respect for custom? By an upwelling of godliness? "No way," says the Harvard Alumni Association's Diane Jellis, associate director for classes and reunions. "Their presence is due entirely to superb scheduling by Commencement organizers. We stopped holding the moonlight cruise in Boston Harbor [a.k.a. "the booze cruise"] the night before baccalaureate. This year 1,047 members of my flock were on board the Provincetown II on Sunday night."
"You have chosen to do the right thing," said the Reverend Professor Gomes to his damp congregation. "You have not taken any shortcuts. You have followed in the well-trodden paths of your predecessors....Welcome to your last rites."
After the outburst from the rain gods, Commencement settled down and behaved itself altogether.
At ROTC commissioning ceremonies on June 7, family members pinned insignia of rank on loved ones, as retired U.S. Army major Jin Robertson does here for second lieutenant Jasmin S. Cho '00, her daughter, of Lowell House, Fayetteville, N.C., and Seattle. Congressman Amory Houghton Jr. '50 was guest speaker and administered the oath.
"The great middle class" of 1950 --full of veterans and the largest class in Harvard history--brought with them to school many of the forces that would shape the modern University. In a panel discussion, reunioners, including former dean of admissions Fred Glimp, considered "a half century of change in Harvard College admissions." Evidence of one change could be heard near the start of the baccalaureate service, when students read in Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic, and English from the Hebrew Bible, the Kalisantarana Upanishad, the Holy Koran, and the New Testament. But Bernard Bailyn, Ph.D. '53, Adams University Professor emeritus, who moderated the discussion, opined that the major difference in a College class today is not its diversity, but the degree to which Harvard College has become a public-service institution. Students are performing public service to an extent that tires him even to read about.
People with Commencement-week public-speaking parts often spoke of love in one disguise or another. "Let me commend you to the care and shelter of all those who love you," said President Neil L. Rudenstine at baccalaureate. "May they keep you and protect you always."
Brooke Ellison '00 and her mother, Jean. Photo by Jim Harrison
In one of the quietest voices of the week--slightly strained, but compelling --Brooke Ellison '00, of Currier House and Stony Brook, New York, who would graduate magna cum laude in psychology and biology, brought many listeners to tears in a speech at Class Day. A quadriplegic, she was attended throughout her four years at Harvard by her mother, Jean. "I would not be here if it were not for my mother and she would not be here if it were not for me. And so it goes. As much as we would like to take credit for our own accomplishments," said Ellison, "none of us would be here had it not been for the efforts and caring of those who have helped us along the way....Ten years ago, when I was 11 years old, I was hit by a car. I was initially thought to be brain dead, and no one expected me to live. I have been paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator since that time. Tomorrow, I will graduate from Harvard with my mother and all of you beautiful people. Miracles happen. They have happened to me and they are happening to you. You need only look to the people in your lives in order to see them."
Three women and eight men received honorary degrees at Harvard's 349th Commencement. In order of presentation, the honorands were:
Maclyn McCarty, Rockefeller professor emeritus, Rockefeller University. He and his colleagues conducted the landmark research that led to the demonstration that DNA is the substance that transmits hereditary information. Doctor of science: Progenitor of a transforming principle of science, laboratory leader in the battle against deadly disease, through ingenious experiments he has shown us the stuff that genes are made of.
Constance Baker Motley, senior judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. A leading figure in the civil-rights movement and in the federal judiciary, she litigated major cases for the NAACP, including Brown v. Board of Education. Doctor of laws: Pioneer in law and public service, she has championed the rights of people long oppressed and ably led one of our nation's greatest courts with constancy in pursuit of equal justice.
Andrew S. Grove, chairman and former CEO of Intel Corporation. A Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the United States in 1956, Grove was a founder of Intel and a formulator of its microchip technology. Known for his exacting management skills, he helped define the culture of the digital age. Doctor of laws: Rigorous and farsighted master of the microchip, surviving adversity and driving innovation, he has rendered Silicon Valley a singularly fertile grove.
Kenzaburo Oe is considered by many the finest writer in Japan today. In his stories, "life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament," said the Swedish Academy in awarding him a Nobel Prize in 1994. Doctor of letters: Seeking the transcendental through the personal and the mythical, he plumbs the darkness of human existence, affirming in a voice all his own the dignity of each individual.
Nicholaas Bloembergen, Gade University Professor emeritus. Born in Holland, Bloembergen read quantum theory while he hid from the Nazis and ate tulip bulbs "to fill my stomach." At Harvard for four decades, he trained many of today's leading physicists. A Nobel laureate, he is known for his contributions in nuclear magnetic resonance, lasers, and spectroscopy. Doctor of science: Phenomenal physicist, magnetic mentor, resonant voice for research, whose laserlike brilliance has cast waves of energy and light across modern science.
Judith Coleman Richards Hope, J.D. '64, senior counsel and a longtime partner in Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. The first woman elected a Fellow of Harvard College (the Harvard Corporation), she served 11 years before stepping down this spring. Doctor of laws: Distinguished advocate and devoted alumna, steadfast public servant and energetic entrepreneur, she has opened doors and minds through her perspicacious fellowship.
Noam Chomsky, Jf ' 55, Institute Professor at MIT, is widely regarded as the father of modern linguistics. He developed a pioneering approach to our understanding of language and of the ways in which the mind generates and comprehends the complex structures that we call sentences. Doctor of laws: Generative and transformative thinker, exploring mysteries of language and mind, he reinvents our understanding of how we come to speak, and so of who we are.
Frank O. Gehry, Ds '57, design principal of Frank O. Gehry & Associates. When Gehry was a boy, his grandmother each Thursday brought home a live carp, which lived in the bathtub until rendered into the Saturday-night gefilte fish. In time, the form of a twisting fish became a favorite motif in the architect's dynamic buildings. Doctor of arts: Adventurous creator of a new aesthetic, reveling in the chaotic vitality of our urban life, he sculpts buildings that shimmer, sail, swoop, and soar, unleashing the power of architecture as art.
Seiji Ozawa, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In his more than a quarter century with the BSO, he has promoted new music, furthered musical education, and taken the orchestra's music to audiences around the world. Doctor of music: Dynamic and buoyant maestro of Boston's beloved orchestra, with all the world his stage, he fills the air and stirs the soul with a wave of his baton.
Katherine Bogdanovich Loker, a philanthropist, is the daughter of a Yugoslav émigré who established StarKist. A sprinter in her youth, she narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics. In partnership with her late husband, Donald P. Loker '25, she became increasingly interested in philanthropy. She led efforts to recrown Memorial Hall with the resplendent tower shown on the cover of this magazine, one of her many benefactions to Harvard. Doctor of humane letters: Creating a commons for students, envisioning a haven for readers, rebuilding the capstone of a campus landmark, she lifts our sights skyward with energetic aspiration and towering generosity.
Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Harvard's Lamont University Professor emeritus. A 1998 Nobel laureate in economics, Sen is renowned for work on social choice, inequality, and famine. Doctor of laws: With paramount concern for the world's impoverished, he infuses economics with a passion for fairness, his vision of freedom and humane development pointing the way toward a better life for all.
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