"You are a raucous bunch of miscreants today, aren't you?" actor Morgan Freeman chided the seniors as they applauded him enthusiastically on Commencement day, May 30.
After giving Freeman his honorary degree, President Simmons asked him to say a few impromptu words, so he described his own college career, which totaled all of three semesters at Los Angeles City College back in 1959 and 1960. In his familiar, resonant tones, the actor recalled that he got A's in voice diction, voice development, dance movement, and French—but "didn't do too well" in acting.
"I really have a hard time imagining the truth that I am standing here on the stage of such a distinguished university being honored with a doctorate in fine arts," he said. "As I told President Simmons last night, if this was a mistake I totally understand."
Freeman's charm was one of several unexpected treats at Brown's 242nd Commencement. In addition to the 2,259 degrees, including eight honoraries, awarded that day, was one to Nelson Mandela, whom Freeman depicted in the movie Invictus, sadly he was not healthy enough to travel to Providence. And in a divergence from the printed program, President Simmons broughtProfessor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine to the stage to celebrate his fifty years of teaching.
From Campus Dance on Friday to the final departmental degree ceremonies Sunday afternoon, the campus was a flurry of nonstop activities on Memorial Day weekend. More than 14,000 students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and neighbors turned out for Campus Dance, swinging in the balmy air to big-band jazz on the College Green. Down on Lincoln Field an alumni band, Lush, and two student groups, Dorado and DOSS The Artist & The PGA Tour, cranked up the amps.
"It was much better than the music my year," observed Eric Wolff '84. "No offense to the Blind Dates."
Saturday, early birds dropped in on their class breakfasts and the Hour with the President. At Field Day, young alumni sprawled on the grass watching the magic show with their children, while non-parents and off-duty parents orbited their class tents, eating lunch and catching up on years passed, graduations celebrated, and jobs gained—and lost.
While alumni traded stories, the class of 2010 marched down to the First Baptist Church in America for Baccalaureate, where New York Times reporter David Rohde '90 described his escape last year after being kidnapped and held for seven months by the Taliban. Up on the College Green, thousands of parents, watching a simulcast video of the Baccalaureate service on a Jumbotron, gave Rohde a standing ovation. (His speech is on page 34.)
All day long, alumni, parents, and the occasional student crisscrossed the campus, dropping in on forums. A first-annual BAM forum brought together alumni in the news media to discuss the future of newspapers and magazines, while at a forum discussing college admissions, experts urged parents to relax and trust that their kids really will end up at the best college for them.
By the time Morgan Freeman stepped up to the microphone on Sunday and the 1,483 undergraduates, ninety-seven medical students, 427 master's candidates, and 204 doctoral students had all received their degrees, everyone was ready for the festivities to wind down. Beyond the Van Wickle Gates, the Real World beckoned.