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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

The School Year at Harvard: Concern For National Affairs

By Frederic L. Ballard jr.

In his most recent annual report President Pusey stressed the University's growing interest in and responsibility to the outside world; and the events of Harvard's 1961-62 academic year bear out his observation. There was involvement with colleges spread all around the country -- even over such light-hearted matters as the first inter-collegiate elephant race, held in Fullerton, Cal, and won by Harvard sophomore Joseph M. Russin, riding the 4 1/2 ton "Sonita."

"Sonita." In a more serious venture, students from the College were among the 6000 picketers, representing more than 100 educational institutions, who joined in Project Washington, a mass demonstration before the White House this February.

The fall brought a reawakening of the NDEA controversy, in which Harvard palyed an important role--probably its most important role in educational affairs at the national level for many years to come. The history of the National Defense Education Act dates back to November of 1959, when Harvard rejected a Federal grant of over $3,50,000. The College objected to a requirement that all persons intending to use the money had to sign an affidavit disclaiming belief in any subversive organization.

A positive loyalty oath would have been entirely justifiable, or so the College argued; but a disclaimer of belief was more than the government could rightfully ask, John U. Munro, 34, Dean of the College, expressed the feeling of many persons when he described the measure as "thought control." John F. Kennedy, 40 then a Massachusetts Senator, said the disclaimer affidavit was "worse than futile"; he felt subversives would not hesitate to sign it and that loyal citizens would feet insulted, perhaps even alienated.

After an unsuccessful campaign last summer to have the affidavit repealed, several persons in the Harvard community wondered whether the original stand on NDEA should not, in fact, be reversed and the money accepted. But a virtually unanimous vote in the Faculty, taken this past October, indicated that the overall sentiment was still for refusing the funds.

As the NDEA vote slipped into the past, the University turned its attention to another problem of widespread concern -- should it built a bomb shelter? There were two basic areas of controversy: first what sort of fall-out or blast shelter facilities were economically and technically feasible; second, and more important in the minds of many, what would be the effect on the nation if Harvard, an institution supposedly in close tough with the White House, should suddenly announce plans for atomic war? President Pusey appointed a committee to study the problem; the evenutal decision was to build no new facilities but to convert, wherever possible, existing basements and tunnels into fall-out shelters.

Harvard was picked to finish weventh in the Ivy League by most pre-season experts last fall, but an upset victory over Dartmouth and a surprising 9-7 win over Princeton--a win gained by dint of a touchdown made with less than five minutes left in the game--boosted the Crimson to a tie for second place (with the Tigers) behind an awesomely powerful (by Ivy standards) Columbia eleven. Harvard, moreover, had an outside chance to move up into a tie for first. To do this, the Crimson would have to defeat both Brown and Yale.

Brown fell before the Cantabs, 21 to 6, thus throwing all the Crimson's eggs into the huge basket of the Yale bowl. Harvard won the game without difficulty, rolling up a 27-0 margin in a fast and furious scramble which saw the ball change hands 11 times on fumbles and interceptions.

Other points of interest during the term included the opening of the $11.5 Cambridge Electron Accelerator. whose main component is a doughnut-shaped piece of machinery 240 feet in diameter. The Atomic Energy Commission financed a large portion of the work, along with Harvard and several other participating Boston Universities. Miss Sweden paid Cambridge a visit, and ended up on a date with one of the undergraduates, Jim Ullyot. And Harvard and Radcliffe continue their gradual merger. There were two key steps: First, the Radcliffe Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was absorbed into the Harvard GSAS, Second, though the two Colleges maintained separate identities at the undergraduate level, it was decided to give the Cliffies Harvard diplomas with a Radcliffe signature added, instead of the traditional Radcliffe diploma countersigned by a Harvard official.

The Spring brought the Godkin Lectures, given this year by Nelson Rockefeller, New York's White-House hopeful governor. Rockefeller's topic was "The Future of Federalism"; the series of lectures he gave on it has been reprinted in a moderately successful book. Rockefeller aired many of the backbone positions of his platform in the Godkin lectures -- his political speeches since then have returned continually to phrases and arguments first heard last winter in Sanders Theatre.

All in all, the lectures were quite an event. Admission was free and on a first - come - first - served basis; the students responded to this policy about the way one would suspect they might. Partial consolation for those unable to fight their way in was WGBH-TV's rebroadcast of each lecture later the nigh it was given.

Another political highlight project Washington - caught the imagination of the entire undergraduate body for a few days near the end of the new term's first month. The picketing was to take place over a weekend, and when it snowed 18 inches on Friday, skeptics wrote the Project off as a dead letter. The demonstrators made the trip to Washington only to find a dismal welcome--besides the weather, many Capital officials were unsympathetic. But Project Washington was far from finished--student leaders rallied the group and staged one of the city's biggest and best-organized political demonstrations the next day. The picketers paraded around the White House, and then embarked on a three-mile march to Arlington Cemetary. Washington's Police Chief said the picked operation was "one of the largest in the last 35 years."

As the spring wore on, H. Stuart Hughes, a Harvard history professor, declared his candidacy for the open Massachusetts Senatorial position.

Hughes thereby jumped into one of the country's hottest family political battles, for he was now facing Teddy (the President's brother) Kennedy, Eddie (the Speaker's nephew) McCormack, and George (the Senator's grandson) Lodge.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter held the College spell-bound for the better part of an hour early in examination period: about the same time John Briston Sullivan, a local speculator-promoter-businessman, produced a different kind of uneasiness by threatening to sink a large, ugly, barge in the middle of the Charles River Basin The move would have been part of Sullivan's grand strategy against a group of Boston businessmen in the struggle for riverfront land control; as Cambridge yachtsmen watched aghast, Sullivan turned to other, less dramatic tactics and decided not to sink the barge after all. Sullivan's enterprises seem to be almost an annual affair. Last spring, for example, he dreamed up a building project for the Cambridge Common. All went well for him, in spite of steadfast opposition from the College, until word filtered down from the White House that it would be better if the Common were left in its present, unbuiltupon condition. This was one of those time when Harvard seemed glad to have so much of its Faculty working in Washington.

Exam period continued; the weather got gentler; the riverbanks became more crowded. Soon the stage was set for what was to be the last, and most romantic, undergraduate fling of the year--the elephant race. It all began out in California, where the Dean of newly founded Orange County State College gave his students a model constitution to use for reference anytime they wanted to start a new extracurricular organization. He made the dummy constitution, just for laughs, in the form of a charter for an elephant racing club.

The students at Orange State took him seriously and sent out letters to a host of other colleges, inviting participation in a pachyderm rally to be held with animals from California movie supply houses. One of these letters found its way into the offices of the CRIMSON, the University's undergraduate daily, where sports editor Russin was quick to see the opportunity.

The rest is history--in three days Russin raised the necessary money (about $450) for plane fare and elephant rental. He headed west, won the race, and, at the annual meeting of the Los Angeles Harvard Club--held the same weekend--he presented one of his two trophies to President Pusey. The other is enshrined in the CRIMSON offices at 14 Plympton Street.

Soon it was summer. The Harvard-Radcliffe orchestra took off on a tour of Mexico, and the non-musical students went home, to Maine, to Europe, or mostly just to work. The winter session was over, but Harvard made national news once more before quieting down for the pre-Summer School lull. On Commencement Day, it was announced that a popular and respected history professor--Franklin Lewis Ford--has been appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This was the position that McGeorge Bundy held before going to Washington to be Kennedy's special assistant for national security.

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