In celebrating its 361st commencement today, Harvard University will reach back through the centuries to once again summon traditions deep and dear. Here is a look at some of the college’s time-honored — and quaintly curious — graduation rituals.
The Happy Committee
Alumni just don’t show up for the festivities and food. Members of the Committee for the
Happy Observance of Commencement escort guests, dignitaries, and students at commencement; assist with the alumni “spreads,” or lunches; and marshal the afternoon procession. They are recognized by their regalia: top hats and tails for men; all-black outfits adorned with crimson cockades for women; and batons for both.
3 legs better than 4
During the ceremony, Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, will repose in a three-legged chair purchased by Edward Holyoke, the college’s president from 1737-1769. The chair, crafted from European ash and American oak, resides in the Fogg Art Museum and is an elegant but understated commencement prop each year. In 2011, undergraduate speaker Kathleen Coulson mused that its lack of a fourth leg signifies “our learning opportunities are not over.”
Who says Latin is a dead language? In a nod to Harvard’s classical roots, one graduating student is chosen to deliver a short speech in Latin during the morning commencement ceremony. If audience members’ Latin is rusty, they may be out of luck: Only graduating seniors are provided with translations. In 1985, Thomas J. McGuire accented his speech with a toga. His advice: Quandocumque officium vocat, audite! Whenever duty calls, listen!
Badges of honor
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