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John Harvard's Journal | Commencement 2002

"Humiditas"

July-August 2002

C-OPENER
Sodden ones. In Tercentenary Theatre candidates for the degree of doctor of dental medicine await the conferring of their credentials, whereupon they would joyfully hurl into the air fist-sized foam-rubber bicuspids (emblazoned, curiously, with the American Express logo). From left: Judah Garfinkle, of Portland, Oregon; Steven Charchut, of Okemos, Michigan; Matthew Walsh, of Atwater, Ohio; and Stephen Yang, of Saratoga, California.
Jim Harrison

Naturally, the aftermath of September 11 brought a measure of gravitas to Commencement 351. And just after 30,000 people attending had taken their seats— while Leah Jane Whittington '02, of Cabot House and Carrboro, North Carolina, was delivering the Latin Salutatory ("Praeses Aestive aestimande...," she began. "Most esteemed President Summers...")—Mother Nature began to contribute quantities of what President Lawrence H. Summers called "humiditas," and even "frigiditas," to the occasion. These caused him to abbreviate his remarks in the afternoon (see "Veritas") and drove many of the 30,000 to cover and to TV screens in the Science Center, the Houses, and graduate-school shelters.

dogs C-SEARCH
Good dogs, bomb sniffers. Right: Harmless celebrants
Jim Harrison

Part of the gravitas came in the form of unusual security measures laid on at the last moment on advice from the Cambridge police, not in response to a specific threat but just because of the troubled times. Commencement organizers calculated that guests could pass through metal detectors one every seven seconds on average, although wanding (surely a new verb in American English) would require 18 seconds. The wands in play made an odd quacking sound in the menacingly gray morning.

By 8:15 the line of people waiting to enter through the gate by Wadsworth House stretched north on Massachusetts Avenue all along the west boundary of the Yard to somewhere in the vicinity of the Science Center. People who had dutifully arrived at 7:45 for the 10 o'clock show waited 90 minutes for examination and admittance. Few seemed dismayed.

Inevitably, the somber times occupied those at the podiums during the week. John C. Whitehead, M.B.A. '47, LL.D. '95, who spoke at the Business School, was formerly cochairman of Goldman, Sachs but now heads the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the group planning the revitalization of Ground Zero. The merit of public service was a frequent theme, voiced by former senator George J. Mitchell at the Kennedy School and by Alberto Gonzales, J.D. '82, chief legal counsel for the White House, at the Law School. "I can assure you public service will make you a better person," said Gonzales. He envisioned a day of opportunity for all, when a girl might reasonably aspire to be president and even a "little boy from the Los Angeles barrio" might be appointed to the Supreme Court. (Gonzales, a Texan, is rumored to be a potential Bush pick for the court.) Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former senator from New York, who was the principal Commencement day speaker in 1976 as well as this year, said, with ominous implications, that "civilization need not die" (see speech).

The speech that generated the most noise—even before it had been given— was an exhortation to goodness by a Muslim senior, Zayed M. Yasin '02, who let it be known in advance that he proposed to explicate the Arabic word jihad (see speech).

But the more subversive speech, at least in this academic community, was that given by Avery Weld Gardiner '97, J.D. '02 (page 65). She managed to keep secret from her father, Robert H. '66, and her mother, Anne, until the moment she stood up to speak, that she would be a speaker. "None of us knew," said her grandmother, "except her sister, who never told a soul." Sometimes, said Gardiner, we need to turn off our analytical side and tune into our heart and soul: "I would venture to guess that there are many of us at this illustrious gathering who haven't yet mastered that part of growing up."

C-ROTC

Although about 50 Harvard students are in the ROTC program, only three, above, were commissioned this year, in a ceremony in Tercentenary Theatre on June 5. They are, from left: Charles B. Cromwell '02, of Mather House and Missoula, Montana, Sean D. McGrath '02, of Eliot House and Atkinson, New Hampshire, and Brian R. Smith '02, of Quincy House and Lee's Summit, Missouri.

C-SUMMERS C-SALUTE

President Lawrence H. Summers, left, spoke at the swearing in. "No Harvard president has done as much for ROTC in 40 years," said the program's Lieutenant Colonel Brian Baker. The playing of the national anthem at the start of the ceremony drew a salute from John W. Sears '52, of Boston, right, across the Theatre on the steps of Widener for the fiftieth-reunion class photograph. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung next day at Commencement, possibly for the first time since World War II.

Jim Harrison

By the time Gardiner spoke, the audience had grasped one aspect of the behavior of umbrellas. If you have an umbrella up, and the persons sitting on either side and in front and back of you have umbrellas up, tilting of one of this regiment of umbrellas will decant a stream of water into your ear or onto your knee or down your back, and while you may laugh at these inundations good-humoredly, and while those on stage under the awning may make charming little rain jokes as the proceedings creep along, you get very wet.

From June 5 through June 7, 1.66 inches of rain fell, most abundantly on Commencement morning, June 6. Rain fell in 1989, when Benazir Bhutto '73 got an honorary degree, and in 1986, when Lord Carrington, NATO's secretary general, did. The biggest shocker came in 1968, when Harvard honored the shah of Iran and rain fell for the first time since 1904.

At 11:42 a.m. this year the Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes stepped to the microphone and gave perhaps the most focused blessing of his career: "God keep us safe, dry, and happy. Amen."