Surrounded by a boggy swamp of brown mud, performers slipped on the dance floor as a heavy downpour soaked the festive pandemonium of Harvard’s 375th Anniversary Celebration Friday night.
Months of planning culminated in the University-wide celebration in Tercentenary Theater, highlighted by a solo performance of “Happy Birthday” by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76 as University President Drew G. Faust sang along. Colored lights glittered on the Widener Library steps as guests feasted upon a red velvet cake serving 5,000 and danced in the rain to live music by the Jimmy Vali band.
But some say that despite the celebrations, the heavy rain sent them scurrying for dry land, with a few adding that the University seemed unprepared for the downpour.
In an email over the Leverett House open list, House Master Howard M. Georgi ’68 apologized for the weather and that “[his] colleagues in the administration organized it so badly.”
Some noted that the University’s rain contingency plans seemed limited, as attendees crowded under the awnings of the few tents serving ice cream, chocolate desserts, and freshly-pressed hot apple cider. With water streaming down musical instruments, Ma’s performance was moved from his solo platform to the main stage.
“I think they should have thought this through a little better,” said Manuel A. Melendez Sanchez ’15, who abandoned the festivities to have a drier meal in Harvard Square.
But for some students and alumni, the deluge only added to the festivities.
“The rain has put everyone on party overdrive,” said Diane L. Bear, the wife of John L. Hamilton ’66.
Individual House dinners kicked off the evening, with cuisine carefully selected to represent Harvard’s culinary history, and were followed by grand House processions through the rain.
House spirit rivaled that of Housing Day as Pforzheimer House processed behind a giant lit polar bear, Lowell House Masters Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin were carried in on a rickshaw, and Quincy House celebrated with flashing shot glasses which they termed “candlesticks.”
“We managed to get through the currents of water and we’re still full-House strong,” Kirkland House Master Tom C. Conley said as he strode in front of the Kirkland float.
As undergraduates proceeded to gaze at the intricate ice sculptures and eat ice cream made from vats of steaming liquid nitrogen, graduate school students marched through to demonstrate their own spirit.
Harvard Kennedy School students, decked out in clothing from around the world, chanted “Ask what you can do,” a reference to former President John F. Kennedy ’40. Glowing LED shields sewn on shirts displayed the crest of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, while Graduate School of Design students sported architectural headdresses.
Many noted that the event brought together the entire University, an occurrence rarely seen outside of Commencement ceremonies.
“It’s nice to see a lot of school unity,” Katharine D. D’Orazio ’15 said. “Freshmen usually don’t get to see this many upperclassmen.”
Despite the downpour, some alumni praised the event as much more energetic and enjoyable than previous anniversary celebrations, due to the University’s efforts to cater to current students in addition to an older alumni audience.
“This 375 is incredible,” said David Kenney ’73, father of College sophomore Alice A. Kenney, who added that his grandfather Laurence Chenoweth, Class of 1911, was present for Harvard’s 300th Anniversary. “I like the fact that all the undergraduates and graduates are involved and very excited about it.”
Deputy Chief of the Harvard University Police Department Michael D. Giacoppo and HUPD Sergeant Richard W. Mederos recalled Harvard’s 350th Anniversary Celebration—which included a daytime keynote address by Prince Charles of Britain and a firework extravaganza—and said that this year’s celebration was more lively and fun.
“Harvard actually threw a great party,” said Aneliese K. Palmer ’12.