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Calm reigned—and the rain stayed away—at the 292nd running of Yale’s happiest ritual.

For a change, the main story of Commencement weekend was the event itself. There were no shocks to the University system, as there was last year when Benno Schmidt announced his resignation as President; no sharpshooters roamed the Old Campus rooftops (as they did two years ago to protect honorary degree recipient George Bush, ’48); and the fading of such inflammatory issues as apartheid from the campus consciousness kept the usual political protests to a barely perceptible minimum.

There was, however, one surprise. Howard Lamar, who had served as Acting President during the months between Schmidt’s departure and the appointment of Richard Levin (see “The New Man Takes Command”), had just finished conferring 2,859 degrees and certificates when Provost Judith Rodin took the microphone. After calling on Lamar to come forward, Rodin ceded the lectern to Vernon Loucks Jr., the senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, who proceeded to pronounce Lamar an “exemplary citizen of Yale and New Haven” and the University’s “man in the white hat" before presenting him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Adding to the corporation’s vote in April to convert Lamar’s status as Acting President to that of Yale’s 21st President, the awarding of the degree was a highly symbolic act, recognizing Lamar’s year-long effort to stabilize a university left in turmoil by Schmidt’s resignation.

Earlier in the day, Loucks himself had received some unexpected attention, but of a less welcome sort. Reacting to the news that Baxter International, the medical supply company of which Loucks is chief executive officer, had admitted violating a federal law against cooperating with the Arab boycott of Israel, students displayed banners proclaiming that “Loucks Is Bad for Yale,” while overhead a plane trailed the message, “Resign Loucks.”

Apart from that comparatively mild protest, the two-day affair went off with nary an ill word. On Sunday, the Class historians, Howard Greller and Josh Shelov, reviewed their undergraduate years in characteristic valedictory fashion, noting that '93 had “stormed through Yale with the subtlety of a wrecking ball.” But the familiar undergraduate humor was tinged with some contemporary anxiety when the historians declared: “We’re so sure of ourselves that we’ve decided to enter the world—UNEMPLOYED!”

But if the students expressed concern about their future, the hordes of parents concentrated on what their children had just accomplished. Among the better-known fathers was Peter Yarrow—of “Peter, Paul and Mary”—whose daughter Bethany received a bachelor’s degree. Yarrow declared that he had received “a hopeful message” at the graduation. “I found myself being nurtured and comforted by the kind of focus, energy, and celebration of capacity that I've seen here,” he said.

Yarrow was not alone among the celebrities at the event. The Class Day speaker was two-time Academy Award–winning actress Jodie Foster, ’84, who urged the new graduates to “dive head-first into an unknown body of water and commit to the current." Foster also reminisced about her experiences at Yale, which she described as “a magical place, often haunting and haunted,” and how they contributed to her growth as an actress and director. “I learned how to read,” she explained, “to go deeper, to go beyond the obvious explanation … beyond all those neat little unquestioned boxes the world puts in front of you like so much cold stone.”

Reflecting the wisdom—or caution—of age, Alistair Cooke, for 22 years the host of Masterpiece Theater and one of 11 notables receiving honorary degrees, assumed a decidedly different tone the following day. “I have absolutely no words of advice for the graduates—none,” he said. “And you know, they’ll make up their own anyway.”  the end


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