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John Harvard's Journal

Commencement Confetti

July-August 2018

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Musical Messages

Among the tributes to Representative John Lewis during the Morning Exercises was the choir’s performance of “We Are…,” by Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell, who was a member of the African-American ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock from 1979 to 2013. Lewis, LL.D. ’12, already had an honorary degree, but President Drew Faust hailed him late in the ceremony, and then College students performed an especially apt song, “Sing Out/March On,” led by its composer, Joshuah Brian Campbell ’16, front and center above.

Photograph by Harvard Magazine/JC 

Print Lives

…at least among loquacious Crimson graduates. The Harvard and Radcliffe class  of 1968 report totals a record-setting 1,223 text pages (1,380 overall, counting the enormous photo insert): allot 2¾ inches of shelf space. Perhaps it was the temper of that special year? President Drew Faust notes, in a special greeting, “There were no halcyon undergraduate days for those of us who graduated in 1968” (she from Bryn Mawr), and recalls the period from Tonkin Gulf to the assassinations that spring (Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy ’48). “In 1968,” she wrote, “the odds of my becoming the president of Harvard University and Bob Dylan’s being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature were approximately the same.” Some things are worth writing about.

…and Print’s 11 Lives… 

The Alumni Association added an eleventh spring class report this year, for the seventieth-reunion class of 1948. A similar book will be added to the annual lineup from now on.

…but Digital Gets Its Due 

Commencement admission tickets this year incorporated a QR code, a step, presumably, toward e-ticketing, perhaps for the 368th edition or a successor year—soon.

Coffee Cart 

Responding to Americans’ insatiable need for caffeine everywhere, coffee was made available for sale within the gates this year, at a cart near Boylston Hall run by Harvard Student Agencies. A cup of Dunkin’s finest went for $2.50, credit or debit card only—but was free with the purchase of a Harvard mug from the adjacent memorabilia booth. Apparently not even the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ geniuses have figured out yet how to install cup holders on Tercentenary Theatre’s close-quarters folding chairs. 

Science for Nonscientists 

Harvard aims to make the most of its life-sciences prowess (a likely priority for president-elect Lawrence S. Bacow). Demonstrating both green cred and crossover appeal in her last Baccalaureate address, President Faust noted, “You were the first freshmen to have official voluntary composting in the dorms—outside of the involuntary composting in your mini-fridges.” 

Coastal Elites? 

The Crimson’s senior survey (704 students responded) yielded results similar to those in recent years: 57 percent of respondents are headed for New York, Massachusetts, and California; 50 percent are bound for jobs in consulting, finance, and technology; accordingly, 53 percent of those headed for jobs expect first-year salaries of $70,000 or more. They are politically liberal; and although a majority view final clubs unfavorably, by 52 percent to 45 percent they view the recently imposed sanctions on joining such clubs unfavorably, too.

Presidential Presence

A row in front of President Faust and Corporation members on the dais was former president Lawrence Summers—whose daughter, Ruth, was collecting her Ed.M. Also present for the day were Neil and Angelica Rudenstine, making for a robust presidential force field to honor the concluding administration and boost the new one.

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Landmarks of Harvard Service

Among the fiftieth-reunion-goers was Gordon McKay professor of computer science Harry R. Lewis, Ph.D. ’74, who has been on the faculty for most of the time since then, preceding the dawning of the field that he has helped pioneer here. Lewis has also served as Harvard College dean and acting dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His wife, Marlyn McGrath ’70, Ph.D. ’78, is nearing a similar milestone reunion—and has a similar record of service: as director of admissions since 1987, she has seen a lot of those students who ended up in Harry’s classes. Among them, he noted on his blog this spring, were 11 current faculty members, in fields from business to computer science to Egyptology.  

Commencement aide Alex Miller
Photograph by Jim Harrison

Tradition, Strictly Adhered To 

In the transition between Jackie O’Neill (who retired as University marshal last December) and a permanent successor, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ administrative dean for international affairs, Margot Gill, is interim marshal. Thus the people who directed human traffic for the Morning Exercises, customarily known as “Marshal’s aides” (they wear white ribbons, and carry small batons incapable of inflicting harm on anyone), were known as “Commencement aides” this year. (It is unknown how many of them would have recognized the difference had it not been pointed out in their pre-deployment briefing.)

Early Readers 

Graduate School of Education degree candidates typically wave paperback picture books in Tercentenary Theatre. Their departing dean, James Ryan, bound for the University of Virginia presidency, tucked his degrees script into a copy of Where the Wild Things Are—and his charges behaved with appropriate abandon.

Photograph courtesy of Madelyn Ho

M.D. en Pointe

Appropriately enough, in the year when Harvard conferred an honorary degree on Twyla Tharp, the multitalented Madelyn Ho ’08, of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, received her medical degree. She celebrates, in Longwood, as presumably only she can.

“Fair Harvard” Evolves 

As the new, “Puritan”-free final line of the alma mater debuted, it is worth recalling how bitterly divided the country was in 1968. In the cadences and meter of the song, Arthur S. Lipkin’s Class Ode then went, in part, “Our ritual laughter is stifled and bleak;/ Our headiness fades with its cry./ On this day, like others, we ponder a war/ Where friends died and more friends will die.” He ended, “The nation that greets us is tortured and sick/And mouths inarticulate cures./ We pray for the spirit to cope with a world/ Where so very little assures.”

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Sexual Assault, Then and Now 

Members of the Radcliffe class of 1963 revealed some suppressed truths in their reunion survey. Eight recounted having been sexually assaulted: “In my first job, when I was working alone the prof would come in and put his hand down my blouse. I was young, shy, and too much in awe of him to do anything about it.” “One of my professors ‘behaved inappropriately’ to me. I reported his action to my head resident, who told me it was ‘better not to talk about it’ because he was coming up for tenure.” In a year of heightened awareness, when some graduates wore a #timesupharvard sticker to urge more responsive actions, their predecessors’ testimonies echoed painfully.

Photograph by Jim Harrison

The Host Unbuttoned

Provost Alan Garber, as the morning emcee, was obliged to play it straight, to keep the train running on time. But he did don shades when he reached the honorands—not because it was sunny, but in homage to the signature fashion statement of film director Wong Kar Wai. And when it was Harvey V. Fineberg’s turn, Garber made much of the honorand’s prior service in the “exalted academic leadership position” of University provost—Fineberg’s role from 1997 to 2001. The exalted Fineberg exults upon collecting his fifth Harvard degree.

Matters of Faith 

On a campus sometimes considered a temple of secular humanism, Ohio governor John Kasich was not the only speaker to focus on faith. Harvard Business School’s class-day speaker Carla Harris ’84, M.B.A. ’87—vice chair of wealth management at Morgan Stanley, Harvard Overseer, and a gospel singer who performed at Drew Faust’s installation—gave an address in the form of a letter to her younger self. Her booming opening: “God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good!”

Sage Perspective 

Author-illustrator Sage Stossel ’93 crafted a seasonal Boston Globe cartoon for members of any school’s class of 2018. One panel suggests that “any grad who follows the news surely already has a leg up in law school,” as a youngster pronounces, “No—the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say whether a sitting president can be indicted.” As a cap-and-gowned grad watches a newscast (“Porn Star Payoff Update!”), Stossel concludes, “[F]or the class of 2018, the bar is such that there’s nowhere for them to lead us but up.”

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