Old Questions, New Answers

By Norman Boucher / July/August 2015
July 10th, 2015

If you didn’t travel to campus for Commencement and Reunion Weekend this year, you missed the answers to the following questions: Are we alone in the universe? Who really pays for health care? How will genetic engineering affect the future of medicine? How can your relationships with other people bring you happiness?

David DelPoio
Graduating seniors stand outside the First Baptist Church as Commencement gets underway Sunday morning. 
These were just a few of the topics discussed at the Commencement forums held on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Beginning with Campus Dance on Friday night, the weekend is a festive bazaar of science, art, commemoration, and random encounters. Graduates and their families, alumni and their families, faculty members and administrators roam the neighborhood from the low ground surrounding the First Baptist Church in America to the relatively high plateau of Erickson Athletic Complex fields, site of the family-friendly—and mostly clean—outdoor fun of Field Day.

Along the way, visitors not in the mood for discussions of profound and timeless questions could attend class dinners and class lunches, class parties and class prayers. They could hear a welcome directly from President Christina Paxson or get books signed by this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner in biography, Professor of Anthropology and Italian Studies David Kertzer ’69. They could remember faculty who died over the past year, or alumni who have died in wars over the past two centuries. They could swing, rock, or just listen to music with instruments or without (a cappella). Or they could sit on benches in the sunshine overtly or covertly participating in one of the weekend’s most popular activities: people-watching.

This Commencement was especially heavy in nostalgia. Whether at forums looking back at fifty years of engineering at Barus and Holley, or telling the University’s history through its flowers, or discussing the history of women and tenure at Brown, or reviewing the history of the entire place—the University’s forward motion (construction of a new math building was well under way) seemed to merit a long look back over the shoulder. Honorary degree recipient Robert A. Corrigan ’57, the longtime president of San Francisco State University, devoted much of his baccalaureate speech to describing the values of past Brown presidents. Even Brown’s most prominent historian, Gordon Wood, got into the act with a presentation about the Rhode Island colony that gave rise to Brown.

If last year’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend was one of the official kickoffs to Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration, this year’s was the official final buzzer. The icing on the 250th cake—remember the cake in the shape of University Hall featured during the kickoff in March 2014?—were two surprises: brief fireworks after the Senior Sing on Friday night and the premiere of the upbeat “Alma Mater 250,” composed by music department chair Joseph “Butch” Rovan, performed by seven graduating MFAs and one undergraduate student, and backed by Roomful of Blues.

Sunday is always the happiest day of all. The Big Event of Commencement and Reunion Weekend is the procession down College Hill to the First Baptist Church and back again. When you walk through those Van Wickle Gates, you enter as a student and emerge as an alum. Brown presents a big pot of alphabet soup each year: 1,125 ABs, 504 ScBs, 12 AB/ScBs to undergraduates; 171 AMs, 40 MATs, 28 MFAs, 11 MPAs, 46 MPHs, 16 MPPs, 153 ScMs, 28 ScM IMEEs, and 27 Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership to successful Masters; and, finally, 215 PhDs and 106 MDs. If you’re having trouble keeping up with all those abbreviations, just know they add up 2,482 total degrees.

One reason the Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership doesn’t have an abbreviation yet is that this was the first year the degree was handed out. Maybe next year they’ll be EMHL’s. Pop quiz, anyone?



Watch videos from the big day.

Who got honorary degrees this year? Click here to find out.

Read or watch a video of the Baccalaureate speech.

This year's Commencement forums tackled a lot of big questions. 

You're 35 years out of Brown. What does your life look like? Read what some members of the class of 1980 think.

See lots more Commencement coverage here.



Glimpses of Commencement/Reunion Weekend

Field Day

50th Reunion: Class of 1965

25th Reunion: Class of 1990


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Related Issue
July/August 2015