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June 08, 2006

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rain-soaked MacFarlane admirers
At Class Day 2006, the umbrellas were helpful to the patient audience as long as the rain decided to fall vertically, which it did except for when it fell diagonally and, on occasion, horizontally. Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

Class Day offers laughs, wisdom, weather

MacFarlane bids Class of '06 a 'Family Guy' farewell

By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office

Seth MacFarlane
Ventriloqual comedy guy Seth MacFarlane bravely faced the challege of being Class Day speaker in the face of weather as unseasonable as his animated suburban characters are unreasonable. (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

Multimedia presentation

Webcast: Class Day with Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane and the inhabitants of his off-color animated creation, television's "Family Guy," bid the Class of 2006 farewell Wednesday (June 7), asserting that "the next wave of new inventions will be because of you people."

MacFarlane, the creator and executive producer of "Family Guy," proved to be four speakers in one. He addressed a rain-diminished crowd huddled in Tercentenary Theatre as himself; as Peter, the father of the "Family Guy" fictional Rhode Island clan; as Stewie, the baby scheming to take over the world; and as Glenn Quagmire, the womanizing neighbor.

The Class Day show went on despite steady heavy rain that had those brave enough to attend in person huddled in the first rows of Tercentenary Theatre under a colorful assemblage of umbrellas.

Despite their protection, flooded aisles and a gusty wind ensured participants had a damp afternoon. Even those under the large tent on the steps of the Memorial Church weren't entirely protected, with MacFarlane cracking, "There's nowhere I'd rather be on a day like this than around all this electrical equipment."

MacFarlane was just one of several speakers during the two-hour long Class Day ceremony. Class Day is held the day before Commencement and honors Harvard College's senior class in a more relaxed manner than possible during Commencement's scripted exercises.

Harvard College Dean Benedict Gross took the opportunity to congratulate the seniors, joking that he was speaking for all parents when he says it's high time that the seniors graduated and "went forth."

Gross said that during Thursday's Commencement ceremony he will tell the students that they're ready to advance knowledge, promote understanding, and serve society. He called those goals "ambitious" and "noble" and said he hopes the students will heed them.

Students and family were also treated to the Harvard and Ivy orations, delivered by graduating seniors. The humorous Ivy orations, delivered by Jess Burkle and Elizabeth Widdicombe, kept the crowd smiling despite the damp. Burkle joked that he and classmates had to fight the "crippling virus of knowledge" in order to make it in the world outside.

The more serious Harvard orations were delivered by James Fisher and Molly Wilson. Fisher encouraged students to avoid a path that would continue the "work now, relax later" mentality common among Harvard students, saying "don't just seize the day, try to seize a little happiness."

Wilson reflected on the day she and some friends put up a "Harvard Square Advice Table" offering the "wisdom of the ages" from a Harvard student. She said she and her friends were surprised because they got "piles and piles" of questions, some humorous - in keeping with their tongue-in-cheek intent - but some serious, such as the one from the woman with small children asking how she was supposed to balance motherhood and law school.

Wilson said that as she stands on the brink of accepting a Harvard degree, she realizes that the world expects a lot from Harvard graduates and that, for better or worse, "the world is about to start trusting us."

"I still feel awfully young and stupid for a Harvard graduate," Wilson said. "It's hard to know what to do with all the well-meaning but perhaps misplaced respect. ... People are going to think we know something, or at least think that we think we know something. It's a complicated gift that demands our honesty about what we know and what we don't."

Two graduating seniors were presented with the Ames Awards during the ceremonies. The awards, which honor seniors who exhibit both leadership and a passion for service, went to Laura Jean Ridge and Eric Momin.

Many of the various speeches and introductions struck a humorous tone, perhaps to fight the dreary weather or perhaps inspired by MacFarlane's presence as Class Day speaker.

MacFarlane, who spoke for about 20 minutes, joked that he's had a fantasy of being a Harvard student and has actually "secretly been living among you" for the last four years, learning, among other things, that the students are fans of the "Family Guy" show.

Shifting into the voices of his animated characters, the show's father Peter told the crowd, "We need smart people like you" to understand how cars work, become president, and invent things like Band-Aids and cheese in a can.

"We used to have to wait for a cow to die and rot in the sun," MacFarlane/Peter said. "Whoever invented spray cheese had to be a Harvard guy."

In the voice of the show's conniving baby, Stewie, MacFarlane offered advice on things to avoid, including not getting Chinese characters tattooed on one's fanny when one doesn't speak Chinese.

And finally, in the voice of the show's neighbor, Quagmire, MacFarlane wished the class: "Giggedy, giggedy, and good luck to all."

Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College