Damon Hosts Cultural Rhythms

Student performers danced, sang, and occasionally exchanged kisses with host Matt Damon, Class of 1992, at the annual Cultural Rhythms festival.

"I've been kissed more tonight than I was in college," Damon joked.

A capacity crowd filled Sanders Theater Saturday for the event, which was sponsored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and featured performances by

17 student groups.

At the event, the Foundation named Damon "Cultural Artist of the Year" for his humanitarian efforts working to help disadvantaged children and increase AIDS awareness.

Damon also signed a petition to show his support for the movement to create an ethnic studies concentration at Harvard.

Most of the student performers wore green ribbons in support of the cause.

"We still lack an academic structure that studies ethnicity in America," Tri M. Phuong '02 explained, saying Cultural Rhythms was an ideal time to spread the ethnic studies message.

The event began when Foundation Director S. Allen Counter introduced Damon, who took the microphone and was immediately greeted with a wave of cheers and applause.

"What will you do if I graduate?" Damon joked, referring to his two unfinished semesters at Harvard, which he attended until 1991.

Acts before intermission spanned from Holoimua O Hawai'i's Samoan and Hawaiian cultural dances to the Hellenic Society's "Butcher's Dance" and the Thai Society's "Fish-Catching Dance."

Pantila Vanichakarn '01, who represented the Thai Society on stage, said she enjoyed the chance to share her culture with others, but the best part of the show came after her performance.

"[Damon] kissed me," she said. "He was really cute."

Members of each group also handed Damon flowers and had the opportunity to sit next to him on stage during the following act.

The first half of the show concluded with a performance by the Kuumba Singers who performed renditions of the South African national anthem and Jordan River.

After a short intermission, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 presented Damon with a plaque and commended him for his work with the AIDS Action Committee.

During his acceptance speech, Damon quipped that when he told his father he would be at Harvard to receive an award, the first thing his father said was "Is it a diploma?"

Damon went on to tell the audience about "compassion, the root of all understanding and harmony" and said he felt his award was as much a responsibility as an honor.

Then, a member of Damon's former residence, Lowell House, presented him with a Lowell sweatshirt and invited him to become a member of the House's senior common room.

Amid the shouts and screams of his fans, Damon unbuttoned his white dress shirt and put on his Lowell T-shirt and sweatshirt, saying, "I'm definitely back now."

The show's second half featured performances by groups ranging from Latinas Unidas to the Vietnamese Association, the South Asian Association and the Celtic Society.

The Harvard Capoeira group performed a sparring routine including series of flips, handstands and kicks that make up the Brazilian martial art called capoeira.

Andy Krueger '01, president of the Celtic Society, said although he forgot some of the words to the piece he sang, he enjoyed being on stage.

"I think it's great," he said. "I just wanted to put a Celtic influence in the event - we fit into its ethos."

"Being Celtic is a state of mind," he added. "I emphasize inclusivity and diversity."

The last performers treated the crowd to a modern form of the Cuban salsa dance.

In his closing remarks, Damon alluded to a possible return to Harvard.

"If you see me around, don't be a stranger," he told audience members.

The Cultural Rhythms celebration ended with an ethnic food fair and additional performances in the Science Center.

Damon made a brief appearance and said he was glad that he hosted the event.

"It was an unbelievable and unexpected day, and I'll never forget it," Damon told The Crimson. He said this was his first time attending Cultural Rhythms.

Counter agreed that Saturday's event went well.

"This is probably the best one we've had," he said. "There were so many outstanding student performances."

One audience member James E. Davis, a senior chemistry lecturer, said he enjoyed seeing people on stage whom he recognized from his classes.

"It's great to see so many people from so many different cultures," he said. "There was such talent and enthusiasm."

Karen C. Tseng '01, a member of the Taiwanese Cultural Society, said that while the event was a fantastic way to acquaint students with other cultures, the awareness should extend beyond one annual event.

"[Cultural Rhythms] is a fantastic idea and it shows that Harvard is interested in promoting cultural understanding," she said.

"But people should also remember that the Foundation is there 365 days a year and [furthering ethnic appreciation] is something the Foundation does all the time," she said.