With our off-site meeting on Monday, I didn’t have time to do justice to the Commencement ceremony and I thought I’d add a few words today.  First, I should explain that the weekend is loaded with events.  On Friday night, many graduating students and alumni on campus for reunion were joined by staff and faculty for a traditional New England clam bake.  Then, on Saturday, we held “Class Day,” which is when the graduating students hear from an outside speaker, as well as an alumnus.  This year, the alum was Dr. Charles Dallara, F75, former Managing Director of the Institute of International Finance.  The invited outside speaker was Dr. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014, who also received an honorary degree from the University on Sunday.  In addition, several students received awards for scholarship and contributions to the community.

On Sunday, the spotlight and the sun shone on the graduating students.  They started the day with champagne toasts, led by classmates, and then proceeded to the all-University event, where degrees are awarded school-by-school.  The commencement address was given by Dr. Madeline Albright, U.S. Secretary of State from 1997-2001.

All of that occurred before I actually turned up on Sunday.  I arrived as graduating students were crossing over from the all-University ceremony to Blakeley Courtyard, where they would line up by degree program and then alphabetically for the procession into the tent.  This is always the perfect time for me to congratulate students — they’re all “filed” in predictable places.  After some farewells, I headed to the tent.

Dean Stavridis makes only the briefest of speeches before handing the podium to the stars of the day.  The first is the recipient of the James L. Paddock Teaching Award — Prof. Jenny Aker, F97 this year.  As an alumna, Prof. Aker was in a good position to assure all the graduates (and their parents) that they are on their way to exciting work.

Anna 1Prof. Aker was followed by the two student speakers.  Our Admissions pal, Anna McCallie, was up first.  Anna is smart and funny and gave the speech we had hoped for.  Among the themes was a tally of all that our students from Nebraska have accomplished.  This reflected some careful research — even those of us in the audience from Admissions didn’t know everything she had uncovered.

When the first student speech is amazing, it’s a bit of a nail biter as the second student ascends to the podium.  What is it like to follow such a well-received speech?  We needn’t have worried.  From the moment she kicked off her shoes (adjusting her height to the microphone, rather than the microphone to her height), Fern Gray gave a speech that was charming and touching (much wiping of eyes from the audience) and all in that lovely Trinidad and Tobago accent.Fern 1

(An aside: I first met Fern when she visited Fletcher as an applicant.  I was supposed to conduct her evaluative interview, but I ended up with a conflict and instead recruited a student, first pausing to greet Fern and explain the change in personnel.  Fern and the student had a great chat, and the rest is history.)

The graduates were called by degree program and name (thus the crafty arrangements for the procession — everyone was already where they needed to be) and Dean Stavridis closed the event by calling upon the graduates to be “dealers in hope,” as they make their way through their careers and the world.  And with that (and lunch in a separate tent), they were off!

 

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