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Garden party met pomp and carnival as this spring's Colleg convocation found a place in the sun.

By Mary Ruth Yoe

Photography by Dan Dry

There was no rosy-fingered dawn on Saturday, June 13. A few minutes after 6 a.m., Dean of the College John W. Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, stood in Harper Quadrangle, studied the gray sky, and did what any optimist would: He made a leap of faith. For the first time in 75 years, the College convocation would be held outdoors, rather than in the high-ceilinged splendor of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Rockefeller had, of course, much to recommend it as the graduates' launching pad into the real world: Besides the force of tradition, there was the allure of symmetry, the chapel as alpha and omega. Arriving on campus in September 1994, members of the Class of 1998 and their parents had gathered in Rockefeller to be welcomed into the University community. It was fitting that they should gather there again to say hail and farewell.

But fitting was the problem. In recent years, it had become harder and harder to shoehorn the graduates and just two members of their families into the 2,100-seat chapel. Closed-circuit television coverage had given other guests in satellite locations around the campus what was often a better view than that available in the chapel, but many students wanted all of their guests to attend the actual ceremony-and wanted to avoid the dilemma of choosing which two guests could be in Rockefeller. This spring, when more students than usual decided to march in the ceremony, it was clear that fitting even two guests per graduate in the chapel would be impossible.

Seeking a solution, the College found precedents in the recent and the distant past. In 1997, the Graduate School of Business held its spring convocation in Harper Quadrangle. And in the first decades of the University's history, the College convocation itself was held outdoors. So in late May, when the College Council voted to change venues (with Rockefeller and satellite locations as a rain plan), the Office of Special Events went into high gear, and everybody crossed their fingers.

It worked. As the 775 fourth-years, led by the University of Chicago Alumni Association Pipe Band, marched two-by-two through Hull Gate and south toward their waiting seats, someone cued the sun. By the time President Hugo F. Sonnenschein and the rest of the academic party had reached the canopied stage, blue streaked the morning sky, and those audience members who had prudently brought along their umbrellas began to think of them as potential sunshades.

Framed on three sides by the Gothic tracery and arches of Harper Quadrangle's limestone architecture, the participants found themselves in an amphitheater that echoed Rockefeller, but with a difference. At its edges, the audience ebbed and flowed-parents led restless children to the sidelines for a drink or a chance to stretch their legs. Shiny congratulatory balloons bobbed above the rows of hatted women, and bouquets of flowers (as the seats filled, an enterprising young man had been selling bunches of deep-red, almost maroon, roses) added to the festivity. The seamlessness continued as, after all the degrees were awarded and the alma mater sung-louder, it seemed, than in the confines of Rockefeller-the procession, again led by the pipers, blended quickly into intersecting circles of graduates, friends, and families.

Early in the ceremony, Jonathan Lear, the John U. Nef distinguished service professor in the Committee on Social Thought, had delivered the Convocation address. Its title-"Crossroads"-matched the occasion, bringing to mind not only the trivium, or meeting of three ways of knowing, that formed the stuff of a bachelor's degree in the Middle Ages, but also the place in time where the graduates and their families found themselves on this particular day. In the end, the bright June morning made the future seem as open as the sky above the quadrangles. Tradition had been served.

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