Under a blissful blue sky and in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 30,000, a total of 6,165 students were awarded undergraduate and graduate degrees Harvard's 349th Commencement exercises in Tercentenary Theatre.
University President Neil L. Rudenstine--who has announced he will step down from his position at the end of next year--presided over the ceremony. A new president will be known by the time of next year's Commencement.
Amidst chants of "Rudy" from undergraduates, Rudenstine conferred degrees on Harvard College seniors, slightly modifying the phrasing that has been used in past Commencement ceremonies.
"By the virtue of authority delegated to me I may confer on you the first degree in the Arts or in the Sciences," Rudenstine told the 1,676 seniors after hesitating for a moment. "And I do finally admit you to the fellowship of educated persons."
This was the first time graduating Harvard College women were given the same diplomas as men--a result of Radcliffe College's metamorphosis into the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
After Middlesex County Sheriff called the "meeting" to order, University Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67 began the ceremony of "beginnings and endings."
Before degrees were awarded, three speakers--two undergraduates and one graduate student--addressed the throngs of family, friends and well-wishers.
During her Latin Salutatory, Kathleen A. Stetsko '00 left students laughing with her reflections on her time at Harvard, although her remarks went over the heads of the most people in the crowd. Only graduating seniors were given an English translation to follow during the speech.
"I survey my fellow graduates, and I do not doubt that we will all excel above all others," Stetsko said. "But, now, now, I look out and realize that none of you can understand a single word I say."
Class Marshal Justin M. Krebs '00 gave a humorous speech for his Senior English Address on the meaning of handshakes. Krebs said he believes graduates should go beyond the simple gesture to embrace life more closely.
"Celebrate life not by a series of handshakes but by embracing it as if you would want it to embrace you," he said.
He joked that his Harvard experience had been a series of handshakes with others, all connected by the greeting by Rudenstine to students in their first year at Annenberg dining hall.
"Through his hand we have symbolically touched every hand at this University," Krebs said.
Dr.Arese U. Carrington, a graduating student from the School of Public Health, inspired the crowd with her call for students to "defend the defenseless" in her Graduate English Address. Carrington's family was divided during civil war in her native country of Nigeria, leaving her and her mother to care for Carrington's younger siblings for nine months.
As is quickly becoming tradition, students from the graduate schools waved items symbolic of their degrees when Rudenstine addressed them.
Harvard Law School graduates waved inflatable sharks, Harvard Business School graduates waved handfuls of money and Harvard Medical School graduates threw urine sample bottles after drinking champagne out of them.
Harvard Divinity School graduates added what may have been the most inspired touches to their academic regalia, constructing halos to go over their mortarboards.
The day had begun hours earlier for most in attendance.
Seniors were roused by 7 a.m.--Quincy House seniors had a bagpipe player to wake them up before heading to a class breakfast and short church service.
Most parents and guests hoping for good seats were up and waiting in lines that stretched down Mass. Ave. and around street corners.
Mary R. Bediako, of Hempstead, N.Y., ended up with a "good" seat closer to Widener Library than to the stage on the steps of Memorial Church, but on the center aisle which she got in line for at 7:30. She said she was there to see her son, Sitso W. Bediako '00.
Joseph Lonergan, of Fairfax County, Va., got in line at 8 a.m. and ended up on the lawn leading up to Lamont Library. He could not see the stage, but he could hear it well while sitting in the shade of a tall bush.
"It could be the worst [seat]," he said. "But it might be the best."
By 8:30, there were no seats to be found, and many began looking for reserved rows--like the two reserved for press--and then adamantly refusing to budge.
One creative family of six got press credentials for the "Savannah Tribune," camping out in the press rows and proudly waving their passes. The Harvard News Office had bought the story that all six were working on a feature, following around a student from the beginning to end of the day.
Judging from the reaction that they greeted their "profilee" with, their article would probably never be written.
And as a reflection of modern times, some parents communicated with graduates via cell phones so that their sons and daughters could wave from a distance to camcorders and cameras.
After undergraduates and students from the University's graduate schools received their degrees, Rudenstine conferred honorary diplomas to this year's 11 honorary degree recipients.
Recipients included Nobel laureate, economist and Lamont University Professor Emeritus Amartya K. Sen, who was also the afternoon Commencement speaker.
"With a paramount concern for the worlds impoverished, he infuses economics with a passion for fairness," Rudenstine said of Sen. "His mission is freedom and community development, pointing the way to a better life for all."
Other recipients included architect Frank O. Gehry, Intel Corporation co-founder Andrew S. Grove, attorney Judith R. Hope, philantropist Katherine B. Loker, biologist Maclyn McCarty, civil rights leader and judge Constance Baker Motley, author Kenzaburo Oe, symphony director Seiji Ozawa, liguistics professor Noam Chomsky and physicist Nicolaas Bloembergen.
The ceremony concluded precisely at noon, as church bells in Cambridge rang out to signify the end of the ceremony.
Undergraduates then moved to their house courtyards for smaller ceremonies, where they received their individual diplomas.