Harvard Magazine, July 1, 2012
The Commencement exercises were broadcast this year on five huge LED screens (up from three) in Tercentenary Theatre and the Old Yard. Subtitles scroll across the bottom of each as speakers talk, but the captioning—keyed in by a stenographer in real time—still has an endearingly human character. Among the honorands, literary critic Gillian Beer was alleged to have written a "Seminole" rather than a "seminal" book; composer John Adams to have been influenced by John "Cull train"; and Wendy Kopp to have founded a "chachers corpse," rather than the teachers' corps Teach for America.
Conferring and Receiving
Having bestowed eight honorary degrees, President Drew Faust was in line to get one—from the University of Oxford, on June 20. And as Harvard recognized one Yale College graduate (Fareed Zakaria), Yale conferred honorary degrees on Crimson faculty members Robert Darnton, Pforzheimer University Professor, and William Julius Wilson, Geyser University Professor; this year's Radcliffe Medalist, Margaret H. Marshall (who holds degrees from both schools, and was Harvard's vice president and general counsel and a Yale trustee); and poet Richard Wilbur, A.M. '47, JF '50.
Families entering the Yard on Thursday morning found a final pre-graduation opportunity for insignia swag, at pop-up tent stores operated by the student-run Harvard Shop and the Harvard Coop....At Harvard Business School's class day, on Wednesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg '91, M.B.A. '95, speaking six days after her company's multibillion-dollar public offering, urged the students to keep in touch via you-know-what website and to "click on an ad or two while you're there."...The official Harvard Gazette devoted its prime inside front cover to promoting Explore Harvard, the anniversary photo album created by Harvard Public Affairs and Communications. (The Gazette's cover was a witty drawing by thirty-fifth reunioner and editorial cartoonist Kevin Kallaugher '77—KAL—illustrating the John Harvard statue rising to walk the Yard: a wry nod to the refrain in Seamus Heaney's "Villanelle for an Anniversary," read by the poet during the Morning Exercises.)...And the University also promoted itself with multiple showings of the peppy "Celebrate 375" slide show, at venues ranging from Wednesday night's honorands dinner to the Commencement afternoon exercises in Tercentenary Theatre.
Matters of Degrees
Daniel P. Schrag, a professor who studies climate change, and holds the honorary A.M. ('00) conferred on tenured faculty members who haven't earned a Harvard degree, this year co-anchored the broadcast of the Morning Exercises with colleague Diana Eck. Among the reunion celebrants was his mother, Minna Levi Schrag '62, M.A.T. '63, a retired litigator and war-crimes prosecutor—from the last class of undergraduate women to receive a Radcliffe, rather than a Harvard, diploma.
By the Numbers
The University conferred 6,787 degrees and 52 certificates at Commencement: 1,552 from the College, 881 from the Business School, 758 from the Law School, 680 from the Graduate School of Education, 652 from the Extension School, 596 from the Kennedy School...scaling on down to 85 from the School of Dental Medicine and 65 from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Oratory, Part 1
Having been selected to give the student "parts" at the Morning Exercises, the speakers are coached on how to get their words and gestures across in the large setting of Tercentenary Theatre. Shown preparing are Latin Salutatorian Michael Velchik '12, Graduate English orator Jonathan Service, Ph.D. '12, Pope professor of the Latin language and literature Richard J. Tarrant, Senior English orator Anthony Hernandez '12, and University Marshal Jackie O'Neill, who emcees the day. For a history of the "parts," visit http://harvardmag.com/speech-history.
Phi Beta Kappa poet Kay Ryan—a two-term poet laureate of the United States—wove a "Graduation Garland" from a dozen of her short works, with a comment on each. She said she had chosen the first, "Counsel"—on the tendency to resist advice (it begins, "It is possible/that even the best counsel/cannot be processed/by the body.")—to "discourage me from thinking you would take any of this in."
The New Case Method
At a Radcliffe Day panel on law and social change, Kathleen M. Sullivan, J.D. '81, past Stanford Law dean, attempted to elucidate the evolution in judicial thinking from 1986 (when Bowers v. Hardwick upheld laws banning "homosexual sodomy") to 2003 (when Lawrence v. Texas ended state prohibitions on mutually consensual sexual relations between adults in their homes). What changed? She recalled a friend explaining that it was Will & Grace. Sullivan understood that to mean "the will of lawyers and the grace of judges." No, her friend explained, she meant the cultural impact of the TV sit-com, which began airing in 1998; its title characters were a gay lawyer and his interior-designer best friend. Confided Sullivan, "I just don't watch much television."
Harvard's 361st graduation ceremony was the twentieth run by Commencement director Grace Scheibner, A.L.B. '90, who deploys her studies in psychology, and hundreds of crimson folders arrayed in her Wadsworth House office, to organize everything from honorands' travel to military-scale logistics for the exercises.
Radcliffe conferred the Captain Jonathan Fay Prize on two College seniors for their outstanding theses. Victoria Koski-Karell was honored for "Coping with Kolera: Encountering the Unknown in North Haiti," cited for "originality of research" in anthropology, biology, and history. Justin Wymer's poetry thesis, "Genius Loci," was hailed for its "fresh, original voice."
Oratory, Part 2
The sheriff of Middlesex County theatrically, and loudly, calls the Morning Exercises to order, and later adjourns them. Overheard on the way out of the ceremony, one new J.D. inquiring of another: "How do I get a job as the sheriff of Middlesex County?" Replied his friend, "The job application probably says: 'Needs booming voice for appearances at Harvard Commencement.'"
Radcliffe: The Magnet
For Commencement, the Radcliffe Institute unveiled a new website. But on Radcliffe Day, a low-tech aid to institute identity was also much in view: the Radcliffe shield refrigerator/car magnet. To instruct in its proper use, events manager Jessica Viklund's "Radcliffe Red" 2001 Chevy Prizm was parked by the luncheon tent, suitably adorned.
Allan M. Brandt relinquished his post as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in February to address a health issue requiring immediate treatment. Happily, although he remains under care, he and his wife, Shelly F. Greenfield (chief academic officer of McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry), were able to attend the Mather House ceremony, after the Morning Exercises, where their son Daniel Brandt '12 received his diploma. Quincy House resident Jacob Brandt '14, Daniel's brother, was also present.
In "Fifty Shades of Graduation," published in The Crimson's Commencement edition, Alexandra A. Petri '10 (an Ivy Orator on her Class Day, now a Washington Post columnist) offered this advice, universally ignored later that morning: "You're graduating. This is terrible news. Now you'll never be Steve Jobs. You won't even be Mark Zuckerberg. I know they want to hand you a diploma, but don't let them! You still have time. Flee." (Petri didn't, either.)