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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
Starting on December 11, 1933 the first trickle of publicity came out of the Harvard News office the official advertising agency for the college, and from this tiny beginning has grown such a flood of press material that it has been measured not in words or in numbers of sheets of paper but in pounds. From this same two page press release have grown the elaborate press headquarters in Grays Hall, the imposing press conferences in the Faculty Room of University Hall, and the influx of about two dozen newspaper men on the usually staid Yard.
The first press release contained the terse message "The first formal action in preparation for Harvard's 300 anniversary in 1936 was taken today at the University with the announcement of a committee of ten to prepare plans for the celebration of the Tercentenary of the founding of Harvard College." The only previous action was in 1926 when another press announcement stated that Samuel E. Morison had been appointed official historian of the college for the 300th celebration.
Gals Press Headquarters
Today these two minor announcements have grown in importance to the point where the whole center section of Grays Hall has been figuratively roped off just to provide headquarters for the press. Four rooms have been devoted to the housing of the reams of press material that has come out of the cubicle in University Hall which houses the News Office.
Another room contains a couple of dozen typewriters, Western Union and Postal Telegraph press blank, and a dozen messengers ready at the beck and call of reporters who have been forced to reduce the gross poundage of learned papers to one readable story. The heads of the science departments of the three big wire services, the AP, the UP, and the INS, as well as three or four men from each Boston paper and from several other out of town papers, were also present. Science Service, an organization specializing in the gathering of all scientific news, sent a large fraction of its whole staff.
Two press conferences a day were usually held. Some young member of the Faculty was on hand to give his explanation of the paper under discussion in order to facilitate its transformation into understandable newspaper copy. That this was necessary can be understood from the titles of some of the papers. Such titles as "Serological and Allergic Reactions with Simple Chemical Compounds," "Sedimentation in Relation to Faulting," or "The Kinematical Structure of a Spatially Uniform Universe" give an idea of the difficulties that some of the crack minds in the newspaper world had to contend with in order to prepare a daily story for popular consumption.
Usually a story of sorts could be put together out of the pounds of press material that were gathered daily and explained by the crack minds on the faculty, but occasionally one of them would come up with the remark, "Gentlemen, I've read this paper, and I can make nothing of it."
Mothers-in-Law and Mathematics
Sometimes the author of the paper came into the press conference. The most interesting experience was that of Professor Malinowski, famed anthropologist, who in explaining his paper to the Fourth Estate said "It cannot be made into a definite science. A mother-in-law cannot be reduced into a mathamatical formula." Continuing he said, in explaining the place that he expected women might have in the future society of the world, "I do not believe that women can ever become the dominant sex. They might become the dominant nuisance."
Another such was Professor Dewey author of a paper on the symposium on "Authority and the Individual." An octogenerian, Dewey still evidences one of the keenest minds in the country. Although he made no attempt to furnish humorous copy, his ability to prevent himself from declaring for or against the present administration was equal to all the endeavors of the assembled newspapermen, though at one time he had to come out with the frank statement, "Really, gentlemen, this isn't a campaign speech, you know."
Occasionally with a first edition deadline approaching, a reporter would get a little panicky and send in a story which he hadn't fully digested and toned down to the correct level. One reporter on a Boston paper sent in a column of involved technicalities, featured by a formula containing a number of "n'a", "x'a", and "y's". The first edition carried the story, but it was rewritten for succeeding editions after the city editor had called up and asked, "Say, what the hell is this stuff, anyway. We don't know what it means."
Cate and Children
Occasionally the opposite happened as when a science editor tried to out argue someone who was explaining a paper that he had spent a good part of his life studying. Often offhand remarks by reporters would enliven the sessions. Thus when one interpreter was discussing a paper in the symposium on "Factors Determining Human Behavior," one reporter compared a child's actions under certain circumstances to a cat who'd been fed a hot oyster at which he'd pawed in anger after the bivalve had burnt him. "Do you feed your cat hot oysters asked someone. "Why yes," answered the helpful one, "he wanted it so I gave it to him." "That's a question in factors determining human behavior right there," interjected a third, and the aside came to an abrngl end.
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