Observed at Harvard's graduation

June 4, 2009 in General

Before commencement, alumni are gathered in the Yard. A dean is reading off what seems to be historical events from the anniversary years.  Among his observations:

  • "In 1959, the Union decided to admit two new states: Hawaii and Alaska. Out of political fairness and bipartisanship, one was Democratic and one was Republican. I believe that is still the case." (I have no idea what he meant.)
  • "In 1984 the Apple Macintosh was introduced, as was the 3.5" computer disk. Whatever happened to the 3.5" disk? I think we'd all like to know."

Undergrads are still cloistered away somewhere. Text from my brother: "This is boring. But hopefully no drug shootings today."

The Latin speaker does an excellent job. My brother notes that his language is limited by Latin's inherent formality, leading to such literal translations as "the Wu Tang Ethnic Brotherhood." The broadcast subtitles are more casual.

A student's speech compares the financial system to an unstable building in an earthquake. In classic Harvardian tradition, it concludes that we must anticipate scenarios we can not imagine but provided little guidance for how such a revelation could come about. Someone less cynical would probably think the speech is about learning from the past and seizing opportunities or some such.

The sun has come out!

The next speaker is one of 33 grads from the Landscape Architecture department of GSD, which he says qualifies him to speak on two things, "Sustainability and the color green." He describes how Al Gore came to the campus earlier this year and declared that "green is the new crimson" but Harvard's environmental plans were waylaid when the school realized that "on their balance sheet, red is the new black." His central metaphor is that in the 50's, Dutch elm disease nearly destroyed Harvard's all-elm Yard. The University's pride could only be saved by vastly increasing the diversity of trees. This is my favorite speech.

Fun fact: the Landscape Architecture program is the oldest such program in the country.

They're graduating each school. GSAS is waving little red and yellow flags. Weak.

The HBS grads are all holding small inflatable globes, presumably symbolizing their goals of world domination. As usual, they cheer the loudest of any school yet. I wonder if they're aware of what's been going on outside the ivory tower. The cheering interrupts Faust and she says, "I haven't even given you the degree yet!"

The Education school wins this years cheering hands down; they never stop, even for Faust. Their dean must have bribed them with something good.

Never mind, the Kennedy School grads are the ones holding globes. This makes slightly more sense. The throw the globes instead of their caps.

The band is playing. They're a lot better than I remember.

FAS has the loudest cheer, but it's driven by numbers rather than enthusiasm. They're all trying to yell their house's names the loudest. It's getting old very quickly.

So many cell phones and cameras are being held up among the students and audience. Even 10 years ago that wouldn't be the case.

And now the Provost is reading the introductions for each honorary degree recipient.

"How do we determine the political rights of an individual in a democracy?" - Honorary degree for Ronald Dworkin, Doctor of Laws.

"Currently a professor at a local school of science best known for it's proximity to Toscanini's ice cream shop, between Central and Kendall Squares." - Honorary degree for MIT's Robert Langer, Doctor of Science.

It occurs to me that people liveblog because it elevates them from the audience to the stage.

The Provost and Faust emphatically back the theory of evolution in their words to Sarah Hrdy, Doctor of Science.

Winton Marsaillis, Doctor of Music, never practiced trumpet because he thought if he got a ring on his lips, girls wouldn't like him! As he's announced, the band plays a brief tribute but no one hears it because of all the cheering. Faust asks them to do it again, and, surprised, they do.

They just called Harvard's library system the largest academic library in the world. Haven't school fought over this before? - Honorary degree to Sidney Verba, Doctor of Laws and "America's tweediest professor."

The first Nobel Prize winner (for physics, in 1997) to serve on a Federal Cabinet, current Energy Secretary Steven Chu is awarded the degree of Doctor of Science. He is also the commencement speaker.

The closing benediction includes the command to turn knowledge into wisdom - very nice.

As everyone stands to leave, Winton starts playing "Saints go Marching In" on his trumpet.

And we're done! (as Engadget would say.) Off to Kirkland for diplomas.

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