Friday, July 03, 2009

Mostly pomp

(One can imagine that it's not exactly normal to see professors and others in academic regalia on days other than commencement weekend, but it would be fun if that were the case.)

Whatever else Yale may excel at, one underestimates its knack for pageantry at one's own peril. My dad observed that brass plus percussion makes quite an impressive sound, and so it was at Yale's commencement on May 25.

The myriad chairs set up in the quad of Old Campus were in fact used first for the Class Day exercises, where a guest speaker delivers an address that at other institutions might be in the graduation ceremony itself, and there are any number of in jokes made. In any case, undergraduates observe a tradition that dictates the wearing of nonstandard hats and other headwear.

We also went to the Baccalaureate (not of an explicitly International variety) where Yale President Richard Levin delivered some not-especially enthralling remarks on the economics of a college degree and its possibly not-apparent value in a time of economic recession.

We arrived a bit late and wound up sitting in what Roger Babusci often called the "nosebleed section" (so high up in a balcony that the air is noticeably thinner and will burst blood vessels, in the joke's formulation), behind the Yale Glee Club which performed Randall Thompson's Alleluia, a university event classic, it would seem (the Rice Chorale performed the same piece, also from a balcony, at President David Leebron's inauguration in October 2004). During a singing of Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, we of course sang the interior verses in the parts as prescribed by The Hymnal 1982 as best as we could remember, and an astonished Glee Club member turned around and asked us "did you just make those parts up on the spot?" We're good, but not that good.

Noteworthy, perhaps, is that the venue for that was Woolsey Hall, a large space used for concerts and other events, with a famous (to me, anyway) double-wide seat, visible in the photo, allegedly built for William Howard Taft (class of 1878) and his ample girth.

The baccalaureate concluded with the playing of Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar, which, we were pleased to no end to see had had its U.S. d├ębut in that very hall. Somehow, the classic "graduation song" seemed to be a perfect fit for the Woolsey Hall organ, and upon reading that, it became evident why that was.

The actual commencement began, as do many, with waiting, and was observed, as other events have been, chiefly on a Jumbotron screen. We observed that Hillary Clinton, among a distinguished set of luminaries, was set to receive an honorary degree from her legal alma mater. I, for one, noted the lack of Secret Service coverage and speculated that she would receive it in absentia, but I was happy to be proven wrong when the Secretary of State came through Phelps Gate with the rest of the degree candidates and then received her diploma on the dais with everyone else.

Ted, of course, was also in that procession, and can perhaps now mention that he was in Hillary Clinton's class at Yale... after a fashion.

Thereupon followed the diploma ceremonies at each residential college and, I'm told, each graduate school.

I'll take this moment to comment on the academic dress custom at Yale, and in short, I find it deficient when compared to the practice at Rice, based on my cursory examination. Hoods are not worn by undergraduates, and college affiliation is indicated by pins and cryptic adornments such as the bunches of grapes visible above (in this case, a reference to the implicit vine of Qui transtulit sustinet, the motto of Saybrook College, not to mention the state of Connecticut). One can see how the college-identifying stole and the hood, indicating to those familiar with the code the degree, field, and granting institution, work together one some 2006 graduates from Hanszen College.

But I digress.

After a banquet at Saybrook, it was time to do some final packing (and more importantly, final throwing-away) and then we hit the road.


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