Like college itself, Commencement weekend balances the formality of tradition with the spontaneity of the young. When each entering class arrives in September through the Van Wickle Gates, it is told that it is the most selective, most academically gifted group of matriculates Brown has yet assembled. Four years later, Commencement, with its paraphernalia and traditions, is in some ways a reminder of how much that same class is like all the ones that came before. On the Brown Web site you can find a history of Commencement that details “traditions that are centuries old,” and that begins with the seven members of the class of 1769. You can learn all you ever wanted about the procession (“the men traditionally dress in top hats and tails, while women wear academic robes”), the mace (“which weighs more than twenty pounds”), the cane (“carried by the president of the Brown Alumni Association . . . it is made of oak taken from University Hall”), and the Manning Chair (“this office chair belonged to Stephen Hopkins, Brown’s first chancellor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence”).
No doubt the pageantry is moving to graduates and spectators alike as they experience their connection to something noble and long-lived. What is less obvious at Commencement, though, are the individual histories of the graduates themselves. Who are they, really? Where have they come from? What have they done at Brown, and where are they going now? Who are their families, these thousands of camera- and cell-phone-toting people waiting patiently as their pride and joy processes down College Hill? Commencement may be one big story reaching back to 1769, but it’s also 2,194 individual stories that, on Sunday of Commencement weekend, reach a conclusion, or at least the end of a chapter.
This year the BAM staff sought out some of the members of the class of ’06, and on Commencement weekend asked them to pause and have their portraits taken with their families. What follows are some of those portraits and a few details meant to suggest the individuality of graduating seniors. The portraits are not meant to accurately reflect the makeup of the graduating class, but only to suggest the variety of human stories it includes. Because, in the end, it must do so in the lives of each of them.
HOMETOWN New York City CONCENTRATIONTheatre Arts FAVORITE COURSE Theater of Feminism EXTRACURRICULARS Actor, Production Workshop, the New Plays Festival, and Perishable Theatre; member of Attitude, a hip-pop and pop dance group; Spanish language translator at an after-school program teaching recently arrived refugees about HIV and AIDS; summer at a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, Japan; summer Fresh Air Fund counselor IMMEDIATE PLANS
Acting in New York City, then studying mime and acrobatics at the Dell’Arte International School in Blue Lake, California
Greenwald expected to concentrate in East Asian studies, but the theater bug bit her at Brown. This summer she’ll have a part in Millicent Scowlworthy, a new work in New York City’s Summer Play Festival. “I play this smarmy business-type man named Iggy Smick,” she says.
Peiling Andrea Li
HOMETOWN San Jose, Calif. CONCENTRATIONs History and Anthropology EXTRACURRICULARS Fencing team; trumpet; piano; singing; Admission Office tour guide; founded HUG, the history departmental undergraduate group HONORS Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Royce Fellow, Starr Fellow, UTRA grant, Rhodes finalist FAVORITE CLASS Violence in the Media, which she cotaught AMBITION To become a history professor IMMEDIATE PLANS Summer in New York City; begins Oxford in the fall ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “This is not a place where you sit in a classroom and take tests. It’s a place where professors learn from students, a place that teaches you how to think.”REGRET “I wish I hadn’t fallen down so much—owning your own crutches is not a good sign.”
Li fell in love with history the summer after her freshman year, during an internship in the Smithsonian Institution’s American music collections. A self-professed “jazz nut,” she re-inventoried the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington files. Back in Providence that fall, she began working at the Rhode Island State Archives three days a week. While studying the Civil War, she happened on a folder of letters sent to deserters. “You know the Dead Letter Office—those kinds of letters,” she says. “I got hooked.” She applied for a Royce Fellowship to fund her research, which resulted in an exhibition this spring on Civil War deserters. “I had a sneaking suspicion,” she says, “that desertion was more complicated than had been understood.”
HOMETOWN Tiverton, R.I. CONCENTRATION Economics FAVORITE COURSE Biotechnology Management EXTRACURRICULARSSenior editor at Watershed, the Brown/RISD journal of environment and culture; riding dirt bikes AMBITION Unsure IMMEDIATE PLANS Assisting a professional photographer REGRET Taking premed classes
If anyone should have felt at home at Brown, it was Goddard. The William Goddard Memorial Gate off the College Green, Goddard House on the Wriston Quad, and the Maddock Alumni Center/Goddard-Iselin House are all named for his ancestors. He arrived at Brown intending to follow in the professional footsteps of his parents, Joan ’76, ’79 MD and Moses ’79 MD. Then one night, “listening to my parents talk endlessly about medicine,” he says, “I realized I didn’t love the profession. And it’s one of those professions you really need to be in love with.” He switched to economics, but after taking RISD photography classes he began to really feel at home. “I’m still not totally sure I want to do photography,” he says. “But I’m going to give it a try.”
Elliott Walker Breece
HOMETOWN Washington, D.C. CONCENTRATION Modern Culture and Media FAVORITE COURSE Introduction to Digital Media Production EXTRACURRICULARS Editor in chief of the African Sun, “a voice for and about the Black community”; active in the Brotherhood, an organization of African American men IMMEDIATE PLANS Continue as CEO and cofounder of Amie Street, an online music retailer AMBITION To be a successful entrepreneur ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “It’s easy to be pigeonholed, to fall into a role: the protester, the hipster, the low-level college bureaucrat, the rich New Yorker. Instead, come to Brown and do you.”
Breece was born and raised in northwest Washington, D.C. While still in middle school he founded a Web development company. In high school he was an honor-roll student at the all-black Benjamin Banneker High School, a top public school in the city. Breece’s current Web company, Amie Street, is set to launch this summer. On it, musicians will release independent music, and listeners will decide the price. “It’s like iTunes meets American Idol meets eBay,” Breece says.
Blair Alexandra Rodgers Nelsen
HOMETOWN “I don’t know.” CONCENTRATION Environmental Studies FAVORITE COURSE Environmental Justice FAVORITE (UNOFFICIAL) COURSE Fem Sex, a workshop on female sexuality EXTRACURRICULARS Production Workshop, international student mentor IMMEDIATE PLANS Traveling to Ecuador to be a health educator and clown REGRET “I thought I’d get more time to develop my spiritual side, both in a community and individually. I self-identify as Wiccan.”ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Take time to see the magic in other people.”
You might call Blair Nelsen a free spirit; she’s certainly a citizen of the earth. Originally from Texas, she attended an international school in Buenos Aires. Her parents now live in Belgium. Freshman year she lived in Hope College, the green special-interest dorm. She researched coal-gasification contamination in Tiverton, R.I., and stage-managed plays with Production Workshop. This summer Blair is heading to the Amazon to promote health education through clowning. “I also wanted to do something unsafe and really hard,” she says by way of explanation. “If I don’t do it now, when will I?”
Felicity Saralin Isabel Rose
HOMETOWN Eugene, Ore. CONCENTRATION Literary Arts FAVORITE COURSE American Culture in the City HONORS Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa EXTRACURRICULARS Teaching assistant for City Politics, president of Brown Lecture Board, Meiklejohn adviser, jobs at the John Hay Library and at a nonprofit for kids of incarcerated mothers, started the Literary Arts undergraduate group IMMEDIATE PLANS Volunteering at the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., on a Liman Fellowship AMBITIONs “To have kids, to be socially active.” Also, to learn Spanish and write REGRET Not concentrating in public policy or political science. ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Don’t count on a romantic relationship at Brown!”
Felicity Rose’s honors project was a novella about a father dying of cancer. Writing it, she saw no connection to her own life. But she lost her own father, an addict and drug dealer, to prison when she was small; he has since died. At Brown she studied literature because she loves reading, she says. “But I’m not really into literary theory or deconstruction.”
Matthew Edward Goracy, Ashley Marie Noreuil, and Evan Michael Pettyjohn
HOMETOWNS Pottersville, N.J. (Goracy); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Noreuil); Carthage, N.Y. (Pettyjohn) CONCENTRATIONS Applied Mathematics (Goracy), Economics (Noreuil), and Applied Mathematics/Economics (Pettyjohn) IMMEDIATE PLANS Marine officer training at the Basic School in Quantico, Va.
In six months to a year, Matt Goracy, Ashley Noreuil, and Evan Pettyjohn expect to be marine officers on duty in Iraq. “It was made clear to us,” Goracy says, “that there are two kinds of marines: ones who are in Iraq and ones who are going to Iraq.” Pettyjohn speaks for all three ROTC members when he says, “I don’t look at it as a sacrifice. I look at it as a privilege.” Of course, it’s not easy supporting the war in Iraq on a campus where someone who thinks the United States is responsible for 95 percent of the world’s ills, not all of them, can be described as a political centrist. But all three students say their classmates have been tolerant, and even supportive. “The majority of people respect my decision,” says Pettyjohn, former president of the Brown College Republicans. Noreuil looks forward to showing that women can be effective in combat. “I don’t want them to be like, ‘Okay, she’s a woman, fairly intelligent—give her a desk job at the Pentagon and have her push around papers,’ “ she says. “I want to go to Iraq. I want to see it for myself.”
HOMETOWN Miami CONCENTRATION Biology FAVORITE COURSEImmunology Extracurricular Karate club AMBITION To become a doctor IMMEDIATE PLANS Attending the University of Miami medical school UNUSUAL HOBBY Taught himself to play piano in seventh grade by reading the entry on the instrument in the World Book Encyclopedia REGRET “I didn’t get out to Boston enough.”
In August 1994, Alejandro Vazquez and twenty-five of his relatives boarded a beat-up fishing boat and set sail for Florida. Vazquez was ten, and the Florida Straits were littered with the bodies of drowned Cuban refugees. The trip lasted four days. There was enough food and water for a day and a half. Their compass malfunctioned, the radio failed, and the bilge pump broke. It was only when Vazquez’s uncle, in a moment of utter hopelessness, struck the broken pump with a wrench that it started up again and kept the ship from sinking. Vazquez’s father, a doctor in Cuba, worked as a day laborer in Florida. His son worked hard at school and got into Brown. “At first my parents didn’t understand why I needed to leave Florida,” Vazquez recalls, “but my guidance counselor told them, ‘This is Brown. What an opportunity!’ ”
Seth Michael Magaziner
HOMETOWN Bristol, R.I. CONCENTRATIONHistory FAVORITE COURSEs All of Gordon Wood’s history classes EXTRACURRICULARSBrown College Democrats, Brown Daily HeraldAMBITION “I just know that I want to be in some kind of public service.” IMMEDIATE PLANS Teach for America in Louisiana
Politics is in Seth Magaziner’s blood. In the early 1990s his father, Ira ’69, worked with Hillary Clinton on a famously unsuccessful attempt to reform the nation’s health care system. Ira then became President Bill Clinton’s Internet czar and now chairs the ex-president’s foundation. At Brown, Seth eagerly followed his dad’s example, becoming president of the Brown College Democrats in his junior year. But he’s not so sure that politics is his calling. “All the backroom stuff can be a little disillusioning,” he says. “It was eye opening.” He plans on spending the next two years instructing Louisiana children that Hurricane Katrina made homeless. “I know I want to devote my life to helping people in some way,” he says. “I guess I’m trying to figure out the best way to do it.”
Samer Farid Ghadry
HOMETOWN Potomac, Md. CONCENTRATIONSociology FAVORITE COURSE Perceptions of Mental Illness EXTRACURRICULAR Drummer in “a jazz-influenced, groove-situated soul band” AMBITIONS To be a rock star. “To give food and a place to live to everyone.” IMMEDIATE PLAN To play “fusion indie rock” with his group in Brooklyn
Everyone in Ghadry’s high school called him Sam. It wasn’t his real name, but it was easier than trying to teach his American friends to pronounce Samer, an Arabic name given to him by his Druze Lebanese-born mother and Syrian-born father. But by mid-freshman year at Brown, Ghadry says, “I had questions about who I was, where I came from, what I wanted to be, just about everything.” But the one thing he did know was that from now on he wanted to be called Samer.
Zunaira Tuba Wasif
HOMETOWN West Palm Beach, Fla. CONCENTRATIONFavorite course Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion EXTRACURRICULARS Cognitive Neuroscience Undergraduate Council of Students; founder of the Brown Disability Awareness Council IMMEDIATE PLANS Was married in June and is studying for the Medical College Admission Test AMBITION To be a physician ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “It’s not you. You are exactly as smart as you were three months ago. It’s Brown. Brown is hard. Don’t let it affect your opinion of yourself.” BIGGEST REGRET “I spent too much time thinking about my grades.”
Wasif lost her eyesight as a toddler after an allergic reaction to penicillin. Growing up with many friends and in a large Indian American family, she never had to cross the street by herself or navigate unfamiliar territory. Then she came to Brown. “It was daunting,” she says. She didn’t know the way to the Ratty. It was hard to make friends. She overcame her fears when she forced herself to get lost. “I didn’t ask for directions,” she says, “and I figured it out eventually.” Wasif and her new husband—whom she met the summer before she arrived at Brown—are living with her family in West Palm Beach. In addition to her parents and younger brother, she and her husband are sharing the house with her grandmother and aunt, as well as her sister and brother-in-law and their baby. “So it’s crowded,” Wasif says. “But it’s so much fun. No one really has to live there, but everyone wants to.”
HOMETOWN Providence CONCENTRATION American Civilization EXTRACURRICULARS “My extracurriculars start this summer, when I get a social life back.” BEST COURSE The Making of America ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Get to know the faculty—administrators, too.” AMBITION “I have too many. It’s a big world out there.”
Eight years ago, Wolford moved to Providence as special assistant to President Gordon Gee, for whom she’d worked at Ohio State. “It was a better match for me than it was for him,” she jokes. Encouraged by other administrators to stay, Kate took a job in campus life and enrolled in a history class. “This was like the heavens opened up,” she says, “and I understood what a liberal education was about.” Concerned that she’d be rejected, she quietly applied to Brown as a Resumed Undergraduate Education student. Acting President Sheila Blumstein wrote a letter of recommendation. Having served as head usher for the past five Commencements, Kate knew the drill on Commencement day this year—and how to work the system. At 6 a.m., Sunday, she was on the College Green, reserving seats for her relatives right up front in the shade.
CONCENTRATION Science in Society, which she helped found Favorite course Advanced Journalism Awards Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, the Daniel Oppenheim Lifetime Award for radio (“which made me feel like I’m about to die”) EXTRACURRICULARS Writing Fellow; College Hill Independent; Brown Student Radio; Seed Magazine, a journal of science and culture IMMEDIATE PLANS Bike and Build, a group that builds houses for the poor as members bicycle across the country AMBITIONS “To never get bored.” A career in radio REGRET “I think I’m not a regretting person.” ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Get out into Providence.”
Goss started out as a neuroscience concentrator, but a lab supervisor told her she sighed too much while performing brain surgery on rats. An aspiring science journalist, she spent spring break this year in New Orleans, but at 4 p.m., when her Habitat for Humanity colleagues took off for the showers, Goss grabbed her tape recorder and headed for the battered Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish to collect stories. When she returned to campus, she edited the interviews down to an hour-long program that she aired on Brown Student Radio. This summer she’s doing much the same thing, this time with Bike and Build, which left Providence for the West Coast right after graduation. “I’m a journalist without a home,” she says. Next fall she hopes to intern at National Public Radio.
Henry Benton Clarendon
HOMETOWN Tampa, Fla. CONCENTRATIONs Theatre Arts and History of Art and Architecture EXTRACURRICULARS Resident counselor; the comedy troupe Improvidence; doing set and lighting design for most campus theater groups AMBITION “To get my work seen by as many people as possible—whether on Broadway or through regional theater.” IMMEDIATE PLANS Catching up on sleep; working for Brown scenic designer Michael McGarty LESSON LEARNED AT BROWN“Let it ride.” ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Jump in. Do what thrills you.”
The son of alumni Sue Bowker Clarendon ’77 and Rich Clarendon ’78, Ben Clarendon played violin and acted at a magnet performing-arts high school. But “the acting wasn’t happening,” he says. Backstage, his tech director introduced him to the work of Providence scenic designer Eugene Lee, who teaches in the Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium. Ben loves working closely with directors on scenery and lighting. “You’re in at the start,” he says. “You get to determine the look of the play.”
Kartik Kailas Venkatesh
HOMETOWN Dayton, Ohio CONCENTRATIONAnthropology and Sanskrit AWARDS Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa FAVORITE COURSE AIDS in International Perspective EXTRACURRICULARS Meiklejohn adviser; Brown Hindu Group; Spanish interpreter at the Rhode Island Free Clinic; Brown Classics Journal; Admission Office tour guide; intramural soccer IMMEDIATE PLANS Collecting HIV/AIDS data in India; entering the MD/PhD program at Brown Medical School in the fall AMBITION To be a physician and scientist, possibly specializing in infectious disease ADVICE TO FRESHMEN“Get to know a faculty member before you graduate.”
Growing up in Ohio, Venkatesh’s family, who are Indian American, taught him to perform traditional Hindu rituals in Sanskrit. At Brown he coauthored a book with classics professor Peter Scharf detailing five such rituals and collaborated with anthropology professor Lina Fruzzetti on a cultural study of rituals and festivals in the Indian American community. During his four years at Brown, Venkatesh was the only Sanskrit concentrator, which meant that in many of his classes, he was the only student. In addition to completing two concentrations and writing two honors theses—one in classics and the other in anthropology—Venkatesh was enrolled in the Program in Liberal Medical Education.
HOMETOWN St. Louis, Mo. CONCENTRATION Applied Mathematics, with a focus on biology FAVORITE COURSE English 13: Critical Reading and Writing II: The Research EssayEXTRACURRICULARS Brown Ballroom Dance Team; Brown Fencing Team; volunteer, Rhode Island Hospital; student caller, Brown Annual Fund IMMEDIATE PLANS Cornell Medical School AMBITION To be a doctor.TALENTS Bilingual in Russian and English; speaks proficient Spanish; plays the flute, piano, and viola. BIGGEST REGRET “At times becoming so overwhelmed that I couldn’t enjoy my time here.”
Elena Bukanova lived in Moscow until she was eight, when her parents, both scientists, accepted jobs at Washington University in St. Louis. She remembers little about life in Russia—just that she played a lot and spent summers in the country. Her family is small: she is an only child and both her parents are only children. Her grandparents remain in Russia. She describes her pre-med life as stress-filled. Although she concentrated in applied math, she took lots of biology and other science courses. “You need the lab experience,” she explains. “The application process is gruesome.” To relax, she played the flute. Sometimes she exercised. Mostly she hung out with friends. She spent the past semester studying in Barcelona.
HOMETOWN Fresno, Calif. CONCENTRATION Computer Science FAVORITE COURSE Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science EXTRACURRICULARS MEZCLA, a Latino performing arts organization; Attitude, a hip-hop and pop dance group; Women in Computer Science IMMEDIATE PLANS a job as program manager at Microsoft AMBITION To develop educational software for use in Mexico ADVICE TO FRESHMEN “Get involved in the Providence community” BIGGEST REGRET “That I didn’t study abroad. I wish I’d gone to Spain.”
Janete Perez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the first in her family to attend college. She has two younger brothers, ages eight and fourteen. Much of her family remains in Zacatecas, Mexico. Janete attended a heavily Mexican-American public high school in Fresno, where, on a guidance counselor’s recommendation, she took part in a program that sends promising students east to tour the Ivies. “I’d never heard of Brown,” she says. When she arrived on College Hill, it was love at first sight: not as big as Columbia, not as isolated as Dartmouth, and the students struck her as sincere. At Brown, Janete was an undergraduate teaching assistant for five semesters, mostly for her favorite course, Andries van Dam’s introduction to computer programming. Janete took a year off between her junior and senior years to conduct research and to complete two internships, including one at Microsoft. Commencement weekend, she welcomed to campus her parents, brothers, and grandmother. It was their first visit to the East Coast. Janete relished the opportunity to show her family around campus and to introduce them to her friends. She also took them on a trip to New York City.