Michael Velchik: “Of a Gate to Harvard Yard”
Latin oration at Harvard Commencement 2012
The Latin Salutatory is an old tradition at Harvard (read more about its history), and is the only student speech still given in a language other than English. (At the earliest Commencement ceremonies, none were in English.)
Latin orators "usually exploit the absurdity of talking about contemporary things in an ancient language, and draw attention to that incongruity," says Pope professor of the Latin language and literature R.J. Tarrant, who coaches the student speakers on pronunciation and delivery. The speech by this year's orator, Michael Velchik ’12, was no exception. Clichéd jokes become new in Latin. For example: "For some of you, this is the climax; life is only downhill from here. You will spend the rest of your life always looking backwards and often reminding those around you that you went to college in Boston—well, actually, in Cambridge..." (Aliis gradum suscipere gradatio vitae est, reliqua via prona. Reliquam vitam teretis semper recordantes saepeque monentes circumstantes vos cooptatos esse in quoddam collegium Bostoniae situm, re vera Cantabrigiae...) Or: "Having been sorted on that festive and fatal day into Houses, a fortunate group to the Quad, a more fortunate group to Houses overlooking the Charles River, and the most fortunate group to Dunster House" (Tum illo die festivo ac fatali alii beati admissi in Hortum Quadratum, alii beatiores ad domus Flumini Carolo adiacentes, alii beatissimi ad Domum Dunsteriensem). Velchik, a classics concentrator from Dunster, even worked in a reference to "Linsanity" in Latin.
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