Harvard’s 33rd annual Senior Picnic went off without a hitch on a sun-filled Wednesday (July 30) whose warm temperatures were cooled by a gentle breeze.
The yearly gathering in the Tercentenary Theatre, sponsored by the Office of the Mayor of the city of Cambridge and the president of Harvard University, brings senior members of the local community to Harvard Yard for a day of food, fun, music, and dance, and the chance to connect with old friends and make new ones.
Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons noted that the festive summer event allows seniors not only to enjoy each other’s company, but also to connect with and meet their Harvard neighbors.
“It reminds the seniors that not only Harvard is here, but it’s here as part of their neighborhood,” she said amid the crowd of tables sporting red, white, and blue tablecloths and filled with members of the community. “It’s being invited to your neighbor’s back yard to socialize.”
After Simmons – dressed in a cheerful, summery black-and-white polka dot dress and wide-brimmed hat – greeted the crowd, she introduced President Drew Faust, whom she called “an incredible, incredible woman.”
In her brief address, Faust welcomed the community members and recalled fondly that last year’s picnic was one of her first official duties as president of Harvard University.
“It gives me great pleasure to mark this anniversary … [and] also to remember what a good time I had with you a year ago. Welcome to Harvard Yard; we are your neighbor, and it’s exciting to have you in our yard, as Denise said, and to be part of this community that means so much to all of us.”
Faust also introduced the new vice president of the University’s Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs (OGCPA), Christine Heenan, who will take over the role on Oct. 1. Faust also thanked Alan Stone, current vice president of the OGCPA for his service at Harvard.
This year’s cuisine had a Caribbean theme, and the 1,000 guests were treated to a lunch of pumpkin soup, spiced chicken with mango salsa, rice pilaf, cornbread, and a vegetable medley, followed by the summer treat of strawberry and lemon sorbet and oatmeal cookies.
For musical entertainment, the crowd enjoyed the sounds of the Beantown Swing Connection. The recently formed group, led by saxophonist Bobby Tynes, whose day-job is vice principal of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, offered up a range of classics including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “God Bless the Child.”
There were some solemn moments during the event. As a gesture of support for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, pages were circulated among the crowd so attendees could wish the senator well.
For the most part, a good dose of humor and fun was the order of the day for those enjoying the picnic in the welcome shade of the theater’s canopy of oaks, elms, and maple trees.
“It’s nice to socialize and meet new people,” said George Simmons, a retired firefighter and 74-year resident of Cambridge. His only request for the afternoon event, “More hearing aids and some sunglasses.”
While the warm temperatures and sun-splashed steps in front of the Memorial Church may have curtailed some of the dancing that typically graces the concrete stage during the annual affair, it didn’t stop many of the seniors from swinging in their seats.
In a bright yellow shirt with birds studded with rhinestones, Cantabrigian Janet Burke swayed in her chair and clapped and sang along to “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
“This is my first time; it’s fantastic,” said the 69-year-old mother of two daughters and grandmother of two grandsons. “The people are fantastic, and I am enjoying myself.”
A few tables away, Burke’s cousin, Thomas Milton, was also enjoying his first trip to the picnic, and he joked about the raffle of two JetBlue plane tickets that went to a lucky member of the crowd.
“I just changed my name to Regina, because she was the winner,” he said. Milton added that he was glad he came out for the day.
“I’ve seen a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time.”