They Dress Better Now
It was only the fifth time that President Bok had greeted members of a 25th reunion class, but Harry Selig, who stood next to Bok--well, for Harry, this was the fiftieth straight year he had done this sort of thing.
So while Bok managed to smile gracefully, as though he had finally learned his way around these tribal rites of Harvard alumni, Harry Selig positively beamed. Fifty straight years! He hasn't missed one 25th reunion, starting in 1926 with the Class of 1901!
"Fifty straight years," Harry kept saying as he roamed the lawn outside Kresge last Sunday afternoon. All around him, members of the Class of 1951 and their wives cradled drinks in plastic cups and nibbled miniature hot dogs that they speared with plastic toothpicks.
"Yeah, the first time was 1926," Harry said, "when a friend of mine called and asked if I'd take pictures of his 25th Harvard reunion. I came to that one, and then I did the Class of 1902, then 1903, then 1904. . ." Harry Selig stopped talking and simply grinned. He is a short man with gray hair along the sides of his head and not very much on top. He'll be 70 in four months--"But I don't look it, do I?" he kept saying.
While Harry was grinning and talking, two of his employees at Fay Foto, two photographers, threaded through the crowd taking pictures of the reunion class. Finally someone suggested that since this was, after all, Harry's fiftieth year, someone should take a picture of him. So they stood Harry between President Bok and Avram Goldberg, president of Stop and Shop and a member of the reunion organizing committee. Everyone smiled for the camera, and then Harry went back to talking about how this was his fiftieth year.
Behind him, classmates and their wives strolled over to shake hands with Goldberg and Bok. As the classmates approached, Goldberg would shout out a name and a greeting, while Bok would fix a fast glance at everyone's plastic name badge.
Soon the alumni filed into Kresge Hall, where a dinner of steak and baked potatoes awaited them. Bok lingered at the back of the crowd, assuring one alumnus that, no, people weren't up in arms about equal access admissions; that he had received only about six letters of protest, and that he was "delighted" with how well the change had been effected.
Harry Selig, still beaming, was talking about The Hundred Club, an organization he founded to help widows of policemen and firemen in Massachusetts. The organization now has 2100 members, each of whom pay dues of $250 a year; and whenever a policeman or fireman dies, the club gives the widow $2,500 in cash and $10,000 in scholarships for the kids or other assistance.
"Yeah, and we have a big dinner each year, and we get the top people to come and talk," Harry said. "We had Telly Savalas. And we had George Burns. Sure, all the top people. We have judges in the group, all sorts of big people.
"You know McDonald, the policeman who arrested Oswald? Well, we had him up here. Gave him $1000 and a car!"
By now, the Class of 1951 was seated inside Kresge, and Derek Bok, standing at the microphone with one of the reunion organizers, was about to be declared an honorary classmate.
* * *
The next morning, Monday, classmates, their wives, and their college-age children attended a "Harvard Today" symposium in Science Center B. Derek Bok, honorary classmate, was the moderator.
It was Bok's announced purpose to explain what Harvard is like these days--aided by Alberta Arthurs, dean of undergraduate affairs, and Dean Rosovsky. Of course, an equally important purpose of the symposium was to keep the old grads happy. This is traditionally done by assuring alumni that Harvard is still the same place they remember; that whatever changes have occurred have been mostly for the better; and that where changes have not been for the better, official Harvard is pushing diligently for a return to old.
So Bok, alternately jocular and earnest, told the capacity crowd how Harvard has responded to such pressures as sex-blind admissions, federal regulations, and the scarcity of funds. Through it all, he seemed to be saying, the grandeur is intact. The Class of '51 applauded warmly.
Alberta Arthurs gave a thumbnail sketch of today's Harvard students, prefacing her description with the caveat, "You have to realize that I'm speculating, I'm guessing, I'm generalizing, and I may be wrong. If there are undergraduates here, they would undoubtedly correct me." And then she said of today's undergraduates:
*"They're incredibly interesting students, and incredibly articulate students. That's no change."
*"They are terribly hard working students--earnest, directed, career-minded."
*"They are critical, they are constructive, they are very carefully intelligent about Harvard as they are about anything else, and about everything else. They care a bit more than earlier generations of students have."
*"They manage, despite the fact that they are earnest, hard-working, intelligent, directed students, they manage to have a terribly good time. The freshmen class this year held its first annual semi-formal dance."
*"They turn out, participate, listen, learn at every opportunity."
*"There are more people in church in recent years than there have been, and that includes young people. The students are asking for ethics courses. They are cramming for exams, but they're also interested in ethics courses."
*"They're dressing better than they have in quite a long time. And they worry about money a lot. They carry many of the concerns here that their parents are feeling at home."
Yes, Alberta Arthurs was saying, everything you've heard about the changing personal and sexual mores of these students is true. But aren't they wonderful people? The Class of '51 applauded warmly.
Dean Rosovsky was the grumpy voice of Harvard past. Excessive permissiveness, he said, has weakened liberal education. General education has lost its "zest" as fewer faculty these days are able to handle the large survey courses. There is too much academic specialization. And students aren't getting enough guidance.
"I think that at the moment our curriculum resembles rather too much a Chinese menu at a very good restaurant," he said. "But I think that a Chinese menu in the hands of a novice can often result in less than a perfect meal. I would like to supply a few waiters."
The Class of '51 laughed, and then gave the dean loud applause.
In the brief question period that followed, classmates served up four cream-puff questions to Bok and his colleagues. Then, on their way to lunch, alumni scrambled up the steps of Widener, where Harry Selig, barking through a bullhorn, choreagraphed them into an enormous wedge for the official class portrait--his 50th.