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John Harvard's Journal

Commencement Day, 1996 Medical Dean
Money Maven Hail, Fellow!
New Pathway Extended Seeger of Truth
Heard at Harvard The Undergraduate
Crimson on the Tube Sports
Phillips Brooks House The University

Commencement Day Articles
Duck Story · The Day Itself · Honoris Causa · Let There Be Awe
"Gone Outta Here" · Learning On Line · Commencement Confetti · The Return of the Obstinate


DucklingsDuck Story
One day in May Michael Shinagel and his wife, Marjorie North, co-masters of Quincy House, noticed two mallards exploring their rooftop garden, eight floors up and with a river view. Next time they looked, only the female remained. She was sitting in a planter under an evergreen, and she was ornery when approached.

As Commencement neared, with a number of garden parties scheduled, the masters came to wish the duck would disappear. They called Gary Alpert of Harvard's Environmental Health and Safety Office, who came with his net. The duck was easily captured, for she was weak; she had been unwilling to leave the planter in search of food, for it contained her nest with seven eggs. "It just shows to what lengths a determined mother will go to get her children into Harvard," said Master Shinagel.

The masters, House superintendent Ronald Levesque, and Alpert now became most solicitous of Mrs. Duck. They brought her bread, water, and eventually corn. Levesque caused a mesh enclosure to be built. Alpert consulted duck expert Edith Sisson of Concord, Massachusetts, about the care and feeding of ducklings.

These hatched on the Sunday of Commencement week. On Monday they went for their first swim in a pan of water Levesque provided. On Tuesday the ducklings learned to walk in a line behind their mother. On Wednesday Mrs. Sisson, licensed in these matters, came with her husband, Thomas K. Sisson '46, who happened to be celebrating his fiftieth reunion, and removed duck and ducklings from the nurturing ivory tower (see photograph, page 72), took them to a riverbank in Concord, and with words of encouragement, released them. After a moment's hesitation, the ducklings followed their mother into the river, into the real world.

Commencement at Harvard is a fantastic act involving thousands, but each has his or her own story-happy, bittersweet, or melancholy, as each case may be. For the human members of the Harvard family, this Commencement, the 345th, in its public manifestations, could hardly have seemed more untroubled and joyous overall.

There was no insistent theme to the week's proceedings, which allowed the participants to entertain diverse interpretations of them; indeed, if there was any theme, it was diversity. Many of the week's public speakers celebrated the diversity of Harvard students or urged Americans to cultivate tolerance of diversity more assiduously. Professor Diana Eck, in her Phi Beta Kappa oration, went further, speculating about whether this nation could become not merely tolerant, but genuinely, constructively pluralistic. (Her remarks will appear in full in a forthcoming issue of this magazine.)

Harvard awarded 11 honorary degrees on Commencement Day, June 6, and among the honorands was the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. In introducing him, University marshal Richard M. Hunt referred to the political upheavals that had forced Achebe to leave his homeland, adding "which even in these past few days has experienced the shock of devastating bloodshed." Hunt was recognizing a personal tragedy in the midst of all the duckiness of Commencement week. On June 4 in Lagos six men shot and killed Kudirat Abiola, an outspoken critic of Nigeria's military regime and the mother of Harvard senior Hafsat O. Abiola '96. As the young people were often told during their Commencement, the world is not yet perfect.


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