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Graduates See the Light

By Carol Brévart-Demm


Graduates enjoy the ceremony of Commencement. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

Graduation Day dawned sweltering and sticky, but the robe-clad seniors remained undaunted, as did their fans. Cheering College staff members lined Parrish Walk, scrutinizing the stream of 369 graduates, trying to spot those with whom they’d developed special relationships.

With caps bobbing, gowns swaying, each adorned with a splendid bloom from the Dean Bond Rose Garden, the students promenaded, relaxed and joyful, along the walk, accompanied by a superb arrangement of “I’ll Be There” by Music Professor John Alston that featured a soaring trumpet solo. As they snaked into the Scott Amphitheater, resounding applause rose into the tree canopy above that stately yet bucolic setting that has been the site of First Collection and graduation ceremonies for decades. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful and moving locale than this for a tradition so eagerly anticipated by the students, their parents, and their teachers.

In a hilarious speech, senior speaker Nolan Gear emphasized the need to dwell in the present, after perfectly imitating the sound of the Swarthmore fire horn, which he described as the sound of the future. “After four years, we have been turned into Swatties—richly, densely, passionately, resplendently, pluterperfectly weird-ass folks. Having made it this far, after enough shock, let’s try not to anticipate, not to extend ourselves into a future that’s already insinuating itself,” he said. “Let’s not run. Let’s stroll.”

In a ceremony that was viewed by people on five continents in more than 20 countries via live stream, President Chopp conferred honorary degrees on three distinguished alumni: Lotte Lazarsfeld Bailyn ’51, the T. Wilson Professor Emerita and professor of organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management, received a doctor of humane letters degree; Frank Easterbrook ’70, world-renowned legal scholar, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, received a doctor of laws degree; and Judy Richardson ’66, civil rights activist, received a doctor of arts degree.

Loud cheers from various corners of the amphitheater rose into the canopy as graduates crossed the stage, after a hug from a smiling Dean of Students Liz Braun, to accept their neatly ribbon-tied diplomas from Chopp. The 22 students who had enrolled in the bachelor of engineering program, six of whom also received B.A.s, walked last. At the very end of the program, engineer Andreas Bastian returned to the stage with a gift bag containing a gadget that included a button, which Chopp obligingly pressed. Lo and behold! “Congrats 2012” appeared in lights on the awning beneath which faculty and guests sat. In keeping with tradition, the creativity of Swarthmore engineers had produced another graduation prank.

Spirits were high as the jubilant graduates streamed away from the amphitheater onto Parrish Beach and beyond, ready to make their marks on the world.

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