Words and pictures from Harvard’s 352nd Commencement
It was a bit of wordplay in line for Lowell House seniors and rugby players Stefan Atkinson and Justin Belobaba as they marched into Tercentenary Theatre for the Morning Exercises Thursday.
After a long night and an early morning, Atkinson joked: “I’m too tired to prOcess the procession. . . . I got like 20 minutes’ sleep last night.”
An equally fatigued Belobaba said the Commencement costumes made the ceremony look like a throwback – waaaay back.
“I kind of feel like we’re back in the 1500s with some of these costumes,” Belobaba said.
Easy on the gravitas
The Morning Exercises of Harvard Commencement are serious business: After all, they’re launched by a decree from the county sheriff and a prayer from the Chaplain of the Day.
But even clad all in black, graduates manage to spice the proceedings with humor, often making light of their postgraduation paths. Divinity School graduates decorated their mortarboards with halos, and future architects and urban planners from the Graduate School of Design affixed bright orange construction site flags to theirs.
Law School graduates brandished inflatable sharks, poking fun at the popular image of lawyers. Outgoing Dean of the Law School Robert C. Clark presented “these men and women and their cold-water companions” to Provost Steven E. Hyman for degrees.
A large and rowdy cadre of graduates from the Business School waved dollar bills, to the seeming derision of the nearby educators from the Graduate School of Education, who waved children’s books.
In the Medical School section, future dentists tossed foam-rubber teeth in the air and physicians invoked the specter of SARS by waving surgical masks; Kennedy School of Government and School of Public Health graduates bounced blow-up globes.
‘It’s all public health to me …’
“I got as much out of that lecture as I did out of the average lecture at the School of Public Health,” grumbled a graduate following senior Charles B. Watson’s impassioned Latin oration, “De Ignotis.”
Doctors jumping the gun
The Medical School grads took on the energetic role usually reserved for undergrads in Thursday’s Commencement, interrupting Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers as he conferred degrees on them:
“I confer upon you the degree of doctor of medicine,” Summers said, stopping as he was interrupted by cheers. “Don’t jump the gun now,” he admonished before continuing.
“… and you are ready [pause for cheers to die out] all-too ready, to engage in an honorable and merciful calling.”
2 percent solution?
Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. prepared the Class of 2003 for the real world outside the KSG’s walls by telling a story illustrating that academic achievement does not necessarily mean success – and vice versa.
The story concerned a Kennedy School student who barely scratched by in class, but who, a few years later, pulled up to a class reunion in a large, black stretch limousine. Puzzled classmates – who had done much better academically – finally asked him how he managed to be so successful.
He said it was actually very easy. He started a small company that made things for $2 and sold them for $4, concluding:
“You’d be surprised how quickly that 2 percent adds up.”
The tortoise award
Harvard Extension School honored its graduates in a ceremony between the Morning and Afternoon Exercises in the Loeb Drama Center. Among the students singled out for notice at the ceremony was Robert Lowrey, who received the “Tortoise Award,” according to Extension School Dean Michael Shinagel.
Lowrey first began taking classes in the fall of 1971, Shinagel said, and continued taking classes until he moved to California in 1975. After a 27-year hiatus, Lowrey got back on the study track, taking summer and distance courses until he finished his bachelor’s degree – 32 years later.
Harvard and … Harvard
Aidin Carey received an associate’s degree from the Harvard Extension School at Thursday’s ceremonies, and will be going on to a four-year program at a pretty prestigious school. . . Harvard College. The path through these two venerable and respectable institutions will result in Carey having the unusual distinction of holding two Harvard undergraduate degrees.
Spared from humiditas
Last year’s drenching clearly shook the collective confidence (some might say “arrogance”) of the University community that weather, like overeager parents and unruly graduates, would toe the line for Harvard Commencement.
“I thank the School of Divinity for the use of their special connections this year, and I ask for just one more hour,” said President Lawrence H. Summers as he conferred degrees upon Divinity School candidates.
And while special connections (or perhaps it was just the jet stream) did ensure a drier Commencement than last year’s, the gray skies threatened to unleash dramatic weather all day. Delivering his address to the meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association Thursday afternoon, Summers recalled that last year he truncated his speech, sacrificing “veritas” to the “humiditas and frigiditas” of the day.
Had the sun shone this year, Summers said that he intended to treat the audience to the rest of last year’s speech as a preamble to his 2003 address. A glance skyward advised him otherwise.
“There’s enough humiditas and frigiditas that I thought I should leave last year’s speech alone,” said Summers.