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This Was the Year
This was the year of the cell phone. The instruments sprang to the ears of Commencement-goers at every pause in the schedule. Members of the multitude used them as homing devices Commencement day to rendezvous with friends and family among the milling throngs, or sang their bed-bound children a lullaby before going off to a symposium on the nature of success (see "Success, 25 Years Out").
This was also the year of the merger of Harvard and Radcliffe, the demise of Radcliffe College, the departure of President Linda S. Wilson, and the birth of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (see "Radcliffe's Rebirth"). Commencement week was full of recognitions of these historic events.
In a warm-hearted and amusing Baccalaureate address to seniors in Memorial Church on Tuesday, June 8, President Neil L. Rudenstine said to the women in his audience--"those of you who are graduating for the last time with the insignia of Radcliffe as well as Harvard on your degrees"-- "you follow in a long line of distinguished graduates reaching back for more than a century. Those early settlers of the 1890s came as pioneers to an institution that was then, and has oftentimes been since, awkward, apprehensive, cautious, and less than gracious in the face of your great innovative flux."
"We who are gathered today should not feel even remotely smug or complacent about the actual progress that's been made over so many decades," said Rudenstine. "Much, much more remains to be done, not only on this campus but elsewhere, and certainly around the globe....
"Fortunately," he said, "the women of Radcliffe...have become much less shy about reminding those of us who are in the male battalions of the species...about our lamentable lapses and our persistent delusions of adequacy." He urged Harvard men at this time to remember Lady Nancy Astor's utterance, "Yes, of course I married beneath me. All women do."
Linda Wilson was given a crystal bowl as a going-away present at a farewell dinner Tuesday night sponsored by the Radcliffe Board of Trustees for more than a hundred people at the Cronkhite Graduate Center. Wilson would conclude 10 years of service as Radcliffe's seventh president at the end of June. The trustees named her "president emerita," an honor bestowed only twice before in Radcliffe's 120-year history, and they with others contributed funds to create the Linda S. Wilson directorship at the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute, which she established in 1993. In attendance was Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He, like Wilson, is a chemist, and in remarks to the gathering he drew an analogy between the upcoming merger of Harvard and Radcliffe and the topic of Wilson's doctoral dissertation, the silicon-oxygen bond, which, Knowles said, is "one of the strongest bonds there is."
Pointing out that she would finally be relieved of the responsibility of replying to the query "What is Radcliffe?" Wilson added, "We have devised a new answer that will blow their minds."
During Commencement exercises in Tercentenary Theatre Thursday morning, just after a Radcliffe president for the last time had presented her students to have degrees conferred upon them, Rudenstine saluted Wilson before thousands. "We now have the oppor- tunity to express our thanks and great appreciation for two persons who will be leaving their positions this year," he said. "First, Archie Epps, dean of students. You have defined for Harvard the very meaning of what it is to be a dean of students. Next, Linda Wilson. You have guided Radcliffe steadily and with great distinction to a point where you can now leave it with enormous satisfaction to a new future."
In a surprise gesture at the Radcliffe College Alumnae Association luncheon the next day, Wilson robed Mary Maples Dunn in Radcliffe presidential garb as her successor. Dunn has been director of the Schlesinger Library. On July 1 she was to become interim president of Radcliffe, if formal merger documents had not by then been signed, and thereafter will be acting head of the Radcliffe Institute until a dean is appointed.
Rudenstine was a surprise speaker at the luncheon. (Earlier, RCAA president Jane Tewksbury had affirmed that the association would continue to exist.) "There's virtually no reason in the world for Radcliffe to trust Harvard," he allowed, but went on to say that he regards the merger agreement as a deep trust. He wants to make the new institute "not just a success, but a smashing success."
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