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Friday, May 9. Today I turned in my final assignment as a Yale undergrad: an 18-page paper for my seminar, “Doomed Love in the Western World.” It may be the last schoolwork I will ever do, making it a perfect occasion for celebration—except that I wrote the essay from my home in Maine and e-mailed it to a friend, who printed it out and dropped it off at the English department. Computer technology squelches symbolic resonance!
Tuesday, May 13–Friday, May 16. “Dead Week” begins. As usual, most seniors are going to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they will party all night and lie on the beach all afternoon. Twelve of us, however, are spending the week camping on Cumberland Island, a national seashore off the coast of southern Georgia. Sleeping in tents is sweaty and uncomfortable, especially on a back tender from a day of exposure to the hot Georgia sun. But one evening, we are sitting on a beach we have entirely to ourselves when a herd of wild horses meanders by—right in the middle of a lunar eclipse. Distant lightning makes the night sky flash pink. It is a once-in-a-lifetime natural spectacle.
Saturday, May 17. We finally pull into New Haven at 8 p.m. A week ago, students were making beelines all over campus, and you could feel the suppressed energy of final exam period behind library doors and college gates. Now everything seems to have slowed down. On the drive up from Georgia, the Maryland roadside claimed my cell phone from the roof of our moving car (I blame physics, not myself), making me feel even more disconnected as I unload my backpack in my room in Berkeley.
Sunday, May 18–Thursday, May 22. Wait a minute, there actually are some people around. It’s Senior Week. A series of events, from pub crawls to a midday picnic at East Rock, has been organized to encourage 2003-ers to cram in the kind of fun that makes for fond memories—in the way that, say, a class trip to Six Flags did in high school. I’m definitely not complaining, though. The bomb in the law school—nobody hurt and not much damage, but no explanation, either—plus the impending end of life as seniors have known it makes unwinding welcome. Enjoyed to its fullest, the mainstream (i.e., Bacchanalian) version of Senior Week involves so much drinking that the smell begins to cling to your clothes. But alcohol is more than just an intoxicant: Even the most teetotaling college student knows that free or even cheap booze facilitates casual social intercourse, as well as other types of casual intercourse, better than anything else. By far, the most anticipated and inclusive event of the week is Thursday’s Last Chance Dance. After submitting a list of ten very “special” friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers via a Web site, hook-up hopefuls wait for a computer-generated report that will notify them of any matches. As it turns out, though, even the combination of an automated go-between, a dance floor, an open bar, and a vague sense of the apocalypse is still not quite enough to get Yalies between the sheets on a mass scale. Maybe we should have added Jell-O wrestling?
Saturday, May 24. This morning, I glance out the window and see seniors in cap and gown marching along Rose Walk. My response is panic tempered by curiosity. These are Trumbullites; Berkeley’s baccalaureate service isn’t until tomorrow. Later on, I run into a friend in JE whose outfit tells me where she’s been. “How is it?” I ask. She’s flip: “Pretty boring.” Brodhead was good but all he did was read poetry, Levin recycled the speech from his welcome address of freshman year, and the whole thing was just pretty square. My parents and brother arrive in the afternoon, and we go to dinner with my roommate’s family. Part of me thinks this could be just another Parents’ Weekend.
Sunday, May 25. Today feels different. The four hours of sleep I got last night have become standard, but this time I get a chipper reveille from my dad, who phones to say he is enjoying the morning sun on Cross Campus. Am I ready, he asks, for the 11 a.m. service? My roommate is up, along with the other two guys on the floor, friends so close that we basically form a quartet. But we’ve never been as united as we are now—no one wants to put on the cap and gown. Still uncloaked, we look out our windows and see our Berkeley friends assembling early in the courtyard below. With a sad grin, someone says, “I’m dying here,” in the tone of mild complaint we reserve for situations like this. To my friends and me, sentimentality is easier to bear if you sprinkle a little salt on it. If there’s to be sugar coating, let someone else do it—like Dean Brodhead, whose choice of poetry at the service seems just right; like progress-minded President Levin, who struggles but in his own way succeeds in communicating his high hopes for my future despite (but maybe because of) his constant references to things such as “information technology”; and like the Glee Club, whose anthem from the upper balcony of Woolsey Hall sends hope and sadness floating down to graduates. I feel for a moment as though I’m sitting below angels. We regular old humans in the audience also get to sing two hymns, and this feels good, too. Asking God to “fill all our lives with love and grace divine” makes me feel less like a graduate of the Class of 2003 and more like a member of the human race.
Class Day on Old Campus brings us back to the here and now. While the baccalaureate service could have taken place 50 years ago, it is impossible to listen to this year’s guest speaker, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, without thinking about how much the world has changed since we entered Yale in 1999. A long event with many presentations and buoyed by variety, wit, and the occasional outbreak of flat-out goofiness, Class Day is without a doubt a day for the students, who don ridiculous headwear: silly wigs, plush lobsters, an empty bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The student performances are a joy to see and hear. Read in Sinhala (a language spoken in Sri Lanka), the class poem is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.
Monday, May 26. Today is “The Big C,” and we’re back to mortarboards. As predicted, it is pouring out. The one-block march from Cross Campus to the Old Campus takes about an hour, and I think to myself that those forlorn-looking flower dealers lining George Street would have done better to sell galoshes. Berkeley has been assigned to the back of the student section, where three friends and I halfheartedly attempt to convince 1,400 graduating seniors to put down their umbrellas so we can see what’s going on. More concerned with our own soggy condition than with this prestigious event, most of us are happy when it is cut short. Berkeley holds its college ceremony at Center Church on the Green, a welcome downsizing of venue and emotion. The announcing of honors adds some excitement, and Master John Rogers sends the Berkeley Class of 2003 off with advice on how to deal with what is “both an expulsion and a liberation”: Expulsion because tomorrow, our key cards will no longer open any doors on campus. Liberation because now we have new doors to open anyway.
Recipients of Honorary Degrees
Robert Louis Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, Doctor of Humane Letters, for “shining the bright light of freedom in places of darkness and suppression.”
Sydney Brenner, Nobel Prize—winning researcher, genetics pioneer, and “one of the founders of the field of molecular biology,” Doctor of Science.
William H. Cosby Jr., Doctor of Humane Letters, for his work as an entertainer and as “an advocate for children, passionate in [his] belief that their hopes and dreams really matter.”
John Hart Ely ’63LLB, legal scholar, Doctor of Laws, for his teaching and for scholarship on judicial review that gives “clarity to our concept of democracy.”
Anthony S. Fauci, medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health, Doctor of Medical Sciences, for his “commitment, compassion, and creativity” in research efforts against AIDS.
Norman Foster ’62MArch, British architect, Doctor of Fine Arts, for “impeccably refined buildings” that include the Hong Kong Airport and the new Reichstag dome in Berlin.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice, Doctor of Laws, for her work on the court and “as a pioneer in establishing the academic field of women and the law.”
David Hartman, Jewish theologian, director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and “a passionate advocate for coexistence among Jews, Muslims, and Christians,” Doctor of Divinity.
Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton historian, Doctor of Letters, for scholarship that has “honored the voices of women, workers, African Americans, and the poor.”
Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish composer, Doctor of Music, for work that “uses an amazing array of sound . to recreate mood, evoke response, and engage imagination.”
Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize—winning economist, Doctor of Social Science, for scholarship that “holds the promise of improving the lot of the least fortunate.”
Recipients of Teaching Prizes
Nigel Alderman, assistant professor of English: the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College.
Cornelius Beausang, associate professor of physics: the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences.
Jane Levin, lecturer in the humanities: the Yale College Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Lecturer or Lector.
William Odom, professor (adjunct) of political science: the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences.
Robin W. Winks, the late Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History: the Harwood F. Byrnes—Richard B. Sewall Prize for Teaching Excellence in Yale College.
Recipients of the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal
Edward Ayers ’80PhD, professor at the University of Virginia and “one of the preeminent historians of the American South.”
Gerald Brown ’50PhD, of SUNY—Stonybrook, “one of the most distinguished and creative nuclear physicists worldwide.”
John Fenn ’40PhD, 2002 Nobel Laureate in chemistry and a longtime professor of chemical engineering at Yale.
Susan Hockfield, neurobiologist, former dean of the Graduate School, and now provost of the university.
Robert D. Putnam ’70PhD, professor of political science at Harvard and author of Bowling Alone, a study of community and “social capital” in America.
Charles Yanofsky ’51PhD, professor emeritus of biology at Stanford and the author of studies that helped lead to the fields of genomics and proteomics.
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