Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Commencement Confetti

An omnium-gathering of notes and statistics, vital and otherwise

July-August 2008

Harvard Humor

Self-deprecation was much in style this year. Dampening the spirits of already drenched seniors on Class Day, Ben S. Bernanke ’75, Federal Reserve Board chairman, recalled, “Our speaker in 1975 was Dick Gregory, the social critic and comedian, who was inclined toward the sharp-edged and satiric. Central bankers don’t do satire as a rule, so I am going to have to strive for ‘kind of interesting.’” Honorand J.K. Rowling told the afternoon exercises audience, “Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation!” (In a comment for the Facebook generation, she also said about her college friends, “At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection…and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.”)

Wet Wear

Image of umbrella-laden reunionists

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Members of the class of 1958.

Gathering on the Widener steps for their picture on June 4, members of the class of 1958 made good use of their reunion umbrellas—until they had to be furled so the photographer could capture the faces underneath.

 

Fun Prohibited

The College class of 1983 reunion committee issued this advice to members planning to return to Cambridge: “While we understand that children are excited about the presence of J.K. Rowling on campus, we discourage strongly their attendance at the afternoon Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. It will not be a child-oriented event and there will be no one-on-one time with the author of any kind. Most of us with children will be keeping our kids in the superb children’s program during the afternoon....” In light of the “focus on reflections on adult life” at the evening talent show, children were discouraged from attending that, too.

 

Warming Warning

At the fiftieth-reunion symposium on societal and climate change, professor of biological oceanography James J. McCarthy illustrated his remarks with this polar-bear perspective on what is in store.

 

Insider Oratory

Chairman Bernanke’s was the first known Class Day address with references (including a paper from the German Economic Review) and footnotes; note 7 identified “Harvard’s introductory course in principles of economics” for the uninitiated. In a Baccalaureate twofer, President Faust assumed knowledge on her audience’s part, alluding to magic in its American aspect, and to a regular, raunchy undergraduate party: “Here I am in a pulpit, dressed like a Puritan minister—an apparition that would have horrified many of my distinguished forebears and perhaps rededicated some of them to the extirpation of witches. This moment would have propelled Increase and Cotton into a true ‘Mather Lather.’” 

Photograph of

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Tobias Vanderhoop, M.P.A. ’08

Every 343 Years

Tobias Vanderhoop, M.P.A. ’08, said he was the first Aquinnah Wampanoag man since Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, A.B. 1665, to earn a degree from Harvard (see "Pay Dirt in Yard Dig," page 80; the two men are related.) He’s a member of the tribal council and is returning to Martha’s Vineyard to work for the tribe.

  

 

Meteorology Report, U.K. Style

A late spring left campus lawns lush, with flowering things (rhododendrons and kousa dogwoods, honey locust trees and the yellowwoods specially planted in Tercentenary Theatre to blossom for Commencement) still abloom. The downside, of course, was late-spring weather: soaking rain on Wednesday, showers on Friday. Amid the gloom of Commencement day, as temperatures fell to 58 degrees, an observer remarked on the “English” mist, perhaps in honor of the principal speaker? A resident and a visiting Briton promptly corrected that the weather was “Irish”or “Scottish.”

 

An Exile’s Complaint

Twenty-fifth reunioner Marie Bellantoni, of Baltimore, an endocrinologist, revealed a flaw in her Harvard housing: “I was in Hurlbut my first year, and now they’ve stuck me in Greenough! I would have killed to be in the Yard. They better put me there for my fiftieth or I’ll never give to Harvard again.”

The Other Fiftieth Reunion

Picture of co-op

Photograph by Justin Ide/Harvard News Office

Dudley Co-op Fiftieth Reunion

On May 31, more than 80 former residents, plus family, friends, and current residents attended the golden anniversary of the Dudley Co-op, the residence for undergraduates who seek a more informal living experience and prefer home cooking to House dining halls. Among those present was Adam Abroms ’85, of San Luis Obispo, California—the first to paint above 3 Sacramento Street’s entryway the designation “Center for High Energy Metaphysics.”

 

“The Great” Ones

Members of the fiftieth reunion class wore white hats emblazoned with the words “The Great 58” in red. James R. Houghton ’58, M.B.A. ’62, Senior Fellow of Harvard College, wore his hat as he marched into Tercentenary Theatre with classmates in the afternoon parade. “It feels very good,” he said, to be processing —instead of standing on the steps of Widener with his fellow Corporation members, greeting the reunion ranks.

 

Secular Exercises

The Orator at the Phi Beta Kappa literary exercises, on June 3, was Steven Weinberg, Higgins professor of physics from 1973 to 1982, co-winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize, and now of the University of Texas. Given his title, “Without God,” the exercises were conducted without benefit of clergy; the chaplain is expected to return next year. In a richly literary argument, Weinberg said that religious faith had weakened as science explained formerly “mysterious phenomena,” “cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God,” and sought authority not in an “infallible leader…or…a body of sacred writings” but in improvable expertise. He talked about “how it is possible to live without God,” directing listeners to the beauties and pleasures of nature (“[W]hen bread and wine are no longer sacraments, they will still be bread and wine”), of art, and of humor.

Cover Boy

Picture of

Photograph by Stu Rosner

David C. Denison ’75

David C. Denison ’75 and Gretchen Friesinger ’75, then an associate editor of this magazine, lent their son to illustrate a wildly popular January- February 1991 article on college admissions. Now that Tom is A.B. 2008, he gets his own subscription.

 

Feisty First Basewoman

From Radcliffe Institute dean Barbara J. Grosz’s introduction of Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami and this year’s Radcliffe Institute Medalist, on June 6: “A 2005 article in U.S. News & World Report… recalls another episode from her youth. ‘When, in the summer of 1951, the college student who was coaching the local Annie Oakleys softball team wouldn’t let Donna play first base, she bugged him until he gave in. “What she lacked in size,” recalls the coach, one George Steinbrenner, “she made up for in feistiness.”’”

 

Miscellany

Harvard conferred 6,966 degrees and 104 certificates, among them 1,564 degrees to undergraduates completing their work in the College, 907 M.B.A.s, 588 J.D.s, and 542 Ph.D.s.…President Faust got as well as gave degrees this graduation season: she received honorary doctorates from Penn, her alma mater, and Yale.…With construction in Allston just begun (see "On the University's Agenda," page 61), Allston Development Group chief operating officer Christopher M. Gordon was already looking beyond the next half-century: he told a fiftieth-reunion panel that after an initial two-decade burst of accelerated building, Harvard would resume its normal rate of physical growth, using up the capacity to expand within 50 years.

Tech Talk

As the Federal Reserve chairman delivered potentially market-moving remarks on inflation and interest rates during Class Day, they were immediately reported on the Wall Street Journal website (shown here) and other financial news sources.

screen shot of Wall Street Journal

 

And in a bit of Web-address product placement, Harvard Graduate School of Education students, who in previous years waved children’s books, this year flashed placards (below) touting www.EDin08.com—a school-improvement advocacy group backed by Rockefeller, Gates, and Broad philanthropies.

Picture of graduates

Photograph by Stu Rosner

Harvard Graduate School of Education students