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“I am particularly pleased and proud to be standing here ‘in the Yard.’ I have heard a great deal about Harvard—who hasn’t?” Charles, the Prince of Wales, said in a speech in Tercentenary Theater, packed with alumni, students, faculty members, and distinguished guests. The Prince of Wales was the keynote speaker on the first of a three-day convocation celebration of Harvard’s 350th anniversary.
The anniversary received attention from some of the country’s largest newspapers, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, even the U.S. Postal Service joined in the celebration, issuing a commemorative stamp with a drawing of John Harvard’s face etched in crimson.
The festivities, which drew 44,000 attendees, were part of one of the largest and most extravagant birthday parties the country has ever seen and brought together members of the Harvard community from the class of 1918 to the Class of 1990 and everything in between.
CRIMSON AND CHRYSANTHEMUMS
On the morning of the first day of the three-day celebration, three flags waved gallantly from University Hall: the flags of the U.S., the U.K.—in honor of Prince Charles’ keynote speech—and Harvard, with its classic Veritas insignia.
The yard had been transformed, according to James D. Solomon ’87, a Crimson editor who covered the 350th anniversary. White chrysanthemums, grown specifically for the event, covered the steps of Memorial Church and four students, two boys and two girls, had been recruited to guard them.
“It was a very serious job, guarding the mums,” recalled Justine A. Harris ’90, the only freshman of the four. “A lot of people wanted to take them, walk off with the Crimson mums.”
“But we did our job and guarded them well,” she added with a laugh.
Yellow chrysanthemums also covered the ground beneath the feet of the John Harvard statue.
In his time at the University, spanning from when he was a student in the late 1950s to the present, John P. Reardon Jr. ’60, director of the Harvard Alumni Association, said he had “never seen” such an elaborate display.
The second day of festivities was intended to close with an extravagant dinner in Memorial Hall organized for the University’s distinguished guests, including alumni, administrators, and faculty members. However, this event never came to be. A group of between 70 and 100 students, alumni, and faculty members calling for Harvard to divest from apartheid South Africa orchestrated a protest, creating a human barricade at the front of the entrance. When the event attendees were unable to pass through the line of activists, the dinner was canceled, the food donated to a nearby homeless shelter, and the already opened wine poured down the drain.
On the third and final day of the celebration, Joanne “Jody” R. Dushay ’89 acted as a standard bearer, representing her class in the Alumni Day procession. After receiving a letter in the mail asking her to be a part of the festivities, she carried a sign with her class year, 1989—one that she has kept to this day.
“When I was in that parade and holding that sign, it was very special,” Dushay said. “And I do remember seeing a woman and saying, ‘that’s very cool, she’s from the oldest class.’”
The standard bearers bore signs with graduation years dating back to World War I, with the oldest coming from the Class of 1918.
Students, community members, alumni, and faculty members alike noted the magical aura on campus.
“You see all the other classes. It’s a unique opportunity to pass through the walls and get an awareness of all the classes that came before you,” Dushay said.
Such a momentous event also called for a large budget. As a student, Charlene H. Li ’88 remembered calling stores to ask for donations in the form of cake, ice cream, and punch—whatever they could offer.
“I just remember how aghast I was,” Li said. “My impression as a student was ‘You want me to call up these people and ask them to donate?’ I didn’t know they would be happy to.”
A REGAL VISIT
Rumors and lore shrouded the visit of Prince Charles of Wales, according to Solomon.
“Someone told me that the prince traveled with a taster,” he said. “I heard it was an old vestige of the monarchy and that a person had to sample the prince’s food before he ate it so that he wouldn’t be poisoned or something.”
Solomon said that he caused hysterical laughter in the British Consulate General when he called to ask the information officer if this rumor was true.
Fifty chosen students were given the opportunity to personally interact with the much talked about Prince after the British Consulate asked the University to invite individuals whose interests overlapped with those of the Prince to attend a reception with him, according to a Crimson article at the time. Students who enjoyed “polo playing, architecture, music, student government, or third world issues” were in luck.
In his speech, Prince Charles acknowledged a possible lack of enthusiasm surrounding his visit, noting that “at least one American newspaper had said it was a definite mistake to invite someone as appallingly undemocratic as The Prince of Wales.”
Before he arrived, Prince Charles was rumored to be an “incredibly stiff” figure, according to Solomon.
Yet, his speech was a tremendous hit.
“He happened to be fantastic,” Solomon said. “He charmed the entire campus, especially with his humor.”
Michael D. Nolan ’88 agreed.
“He actually gave remarks that the listeners really enjoyed and responded to well,” he said.
Despite the criticism he had received, Prince Charles kept the tone of his address light and humorous.
“Have no fear, ladies and gentlemen, I am used to being regarded as an anachronism,” he told the crowd.
“In fact, I am coming round to think it is rather grand—although parents, has it ever crossed your mind as to how you educate an anachronism?” he added. “Perhaps during the course of this address you will find out that it has proved to be a fruitless task.”
A CELEBRATION OF HISTORY
The motivation behind Harvard’s 350 celebrations were “pretty simple” at the end of the day, according to Reardon.
“It was the celebration of a great American icon,” Reardon said, “and [it was] to show the strength of the place.”
He recalled sitting next to a secret service officer during the address of then Secretary of State George P. Shultz when a plane passed overhead.
“A secret service officer turned to me,” Reardon recalled, “and said, ‘Well, that won’t happen again.’”
Sure enough, no second plane ever passed.
“I suppose that you could say,” Reardon said, “that the 350 was telling the world that Harvard was a mighty place.”
“It’s still a mighty place,” he added.
With three convocations, 106 symposia, a ball, and an event attended by 27,000 spectators at Harvard stadium that featured the Boston Pops, the sequence was intended to celebration the University’s expansive history.
“There were all kinds of dinners and things of that sort. There were fireworks like I never saw, showing ‘Veritas’ up in the sky,” said Reardon, referring to the stadium extravaganza. “I remember that [University] President Bok was concerned about what that was going to be like.”
Reardon said that he thought the celebration was an opportunity to enjoy the rich history of the institution.
“I think that people wanted to say, ‘You know, we’ve had a great run as a university. We’re 350 years old and we’re very strong today and we want to celebrate that,’” Reardon said.
—Staff writer Sabrina A. Mohamed can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Alyza J. Sebenius can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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