the 456th convocation different?
odd thing about seeing famous people on familiar turf is that they
end up looking exactly like who they are: famous people on familiar
turf. So when President Bill Clinton chose to attend the third session
of the Universitys 456th convocationan event more commonly
known as commencementthe man on the dais offering a handshake
to each fourth-year reaching for a long-sought diploma looked, even
when wearing academic regalia, exactly like the man were accustomed
to seeing on the cover of TIME, in the morning paper, or
on the evening news.
But if Clinton looked familiar, in other ways the scene in Harper
Quadrangle, where the Colleges graduation ceremonies moved
last year after decades in Rockefeller Chapel, was extraordinary.
First, there were the six national and local television cameras,
the three busloads of print photographers and journalists representing
periodicals and wire services from Agency France Presse to Newsweeknot
to mention the Magazines illustrator, Mark McMahon (see Campus
Sketchbook, page XVI)joining 789 fourth-years, their
5,000 family and friends, and scores of the Universitys faculty
and officials on a sauna of a Saturday morning.
Then there were the demonstrators. Like the graduates, they started
to gather several hours before the ceremony. By half past nine,
several hundred stood across 57th Street from Cobb Gate.
The issues were contemporary, and so were some of the detailsMuslim
girls in head scarves holding aloft posters mounted on cardboard
boxes that once held PCsbut in other ways, the atmosphere
was vintage Sixties, complete with Joan Baez standards, small children
blowing soap bubbles, and long-haired, sandaled protesters walking
blithely past the mounted policemen assigned to the scene.
Lined up between the metal barricades that channeled, cattle-chute
fashion, their route from Bartlett Gymnasium into Harper Quadrangle,
the graduates took in the scene, some pulling cameras from under
their robes to photograph the demonstrators. Then, about 20 minutes
later than originally scheduled, the Alumni Association pipers led
the procession into the quads.
Once the fourth-years were inside the quadrangles, there was one
more realization that it was a day with a difference. The quads
were sealed off, guarded at every exit. If you were already inside,
you could leave, but you could not return. And the stray tourist,
cyclist, or grad student on her way to somewhere else couldnt
stop for a moment to imbibe a bit of academic pomp.
Next year everything will be back to normal. Convocationbarring
life-threatening weather or floodlike conditionswill again
be outside as the new tradition marks its third year.
Accidental spectators will again drop in.
And yet if you discount the security and media hoopla that accompany
a presidential visit anywhere, this years College convocation
was no moreand no lessspecial than any of those that
have been and that will be. Whether the person whose hand theyre
shaking as they receive their diploma is the president of the U.S.
or the president of the U of C (or both), fourth-years still worry
that they might stumble and trip as they take those final few steps.
And whether the moment is televised live on c-span or captured only
via a parental video-cam, it both lasts too long and is over too
Hail and Farewell. With this issue, the Magazine staff bids
goodbye to its 199899 College interns. Matt Bean, 00,
and Julie Patel, 00, have written for every department from
On the Quads to On the Shelf. Were
grateful for their help, their enthusiasm, andnot leasttheir
sense of humor.M.R.Y.