Tradition, Selfies, & Tweets

May 28th, 2014

On Memorial Day weekend, Brown’s Commencement and reunion weekend, the University this year celebrated three things: the awarding of 2,440 degrees to seniors, graduate students, and medical students; the return of almost 3,500 alumni for reunion weekend and the Commencement procession down College Hill; and the University’s 250th anniversary, which, among other things, meant that all the honorary degrees this year went to alumni.

Frank Mullin
Commencement 2014: Big smiles on a big day. 
As thousands of alumni, faculty, and administrators lined College Street for the May 25th procession, imagining the college’s modest beginnings was a little surreal. The first graduating class, the class of 1769, contained only seven members, all of them men, and they received their degrees down the road in the Baptist church at Warren. The issue of the day was the viability of an independent American state.

In contrast, campus overflowed with people on the day before Memorial Day—a holiday meant to remember the men and women killed while protecting the American state the class of 1769 could only imagine. Their cars parked all over Providence’s East Side, these throngs lined up everywhere a foot of space could be found, and they waited patiently their turn to march in the procession or to cheer its progress. It’s destination? The First Baptist Church in America, another splendid piece of history that served as a setting for the countless selfies and tweets the occasion produced.

Across the campus festive red and brown banners reading Imagine Brown: 250+ hung from lampposts, highlighting the anniversary of the 1764 signing of the Brown Charter. Exhibits around campus underscored the University’s history and its graduates. Rhode Island Hall hosted an exhibition reimagining Brown’s “Lost Museum,” the Jenks Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, which had occupied the building from 1871 to 1915 before some of its contents were dispersed across campus and the rest thrown into the Brown dump by the Seekonk River. Down in List Art Building, the Bell Gallery drew visitors to a much more current exhibition of work by three prominent contemporary alumni artists: Sarah Morris ’89, Bob Reynolds ’90, and Taryn Simon ’97.

All the honorary degree recipients were alums—one, children’s author Lois Lowry ’58, author of The Giver—finally was able to collect the Brown degree she’d put on hiatus to marry and raise a family more than a half century ago. Another, ecologist Nalini Nadkarni ’76, a pioneer of the study of forest canopies, and a lifelong devotee of trees, delivered a Baccalaureate address as unconventional and inspiring as Brown’s all-inclusive, pan-religious service. After marveling at how trees are rooted in the earth while reaching for the sky, Nadkarni directed seniors to “Stand up and turn your cell phones on!” Then she exhorted them to join in Brown's first-ever "flash tweet" their “sky dreams” and life goals. The responses ranged from the local (“a safe university for all future students”) to the global (“Helping Libya toward peace and stability”). And then there were the personal: “Professional Samba Dancer!”

From he vitality of the graduating seniors, it was clear that, after 250 years of evolution, Brown is as ready to look ahead as it is to ponder the past.


fieldday_porthole3.jpg Field Day

During a day of lively conversation and the eternal practice of Frisbee throwing and infant-minding, alums enjoyed an afternoon outdoors. Click on the photo to see the slideshow and help us identify your classmates.



25th_porthole2.jpg 25th Reunion

No one could believe that 25 years have already passed since the members of the class of 1989 first exited the Van Wickle Gates. Here is a slideshow of their reunion weekend. Doesn't everyone still look marvelous? Click on the photo to see the slideshow and help us identify your classmates.


50th_porthole3.jpg 50th Reunion

If the 50th anniversary of graduation is a landmark event, the class of 1964 showed up in numbers to celebrate it over Memorial Day weekend. The joy was dampened only by memories of the terrible event that marked by their class senior year. Click the photo to see the slideshow and help us identify your classmates.


campusdance_porthole3.jpg Night Moves

Despite cool temperatures and overcast skies, alumni found old friends, parents danced with relief, and seniors enjoyed some last joyous moments as undergraduates on the Friday night of Campus Dance. Selfies and tweets may have dominated the evening, but tradition prevailed at midnight as students gathered on the steps of Sayles for the senior sing. Click the photo to see the slideshow and help us identify your friends and classmates.

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Related Issue
May/June 2014