Here’s a bit of Marlboro memorabilia for y’all. In 1971, that’s right, 40 years ago, Marlboro’s graduating seniors rebelled against wearing gowns for the first time, including those outrageous caps that look like you are balancing an LP on your head. Instead, students wore their usual bellbottoms, tie-died Ts, peasant blouses, plaid shirts and mini, midi and maxi skirts, and were led into the hall by bagpipes. Caps and gowns were reintroduced in later years, just like LPs were, in keeping with longstanding tradition and the words of the 19th-century French writer known as Stendhal, “Only great minds can afford a simple style.” Still, as one graduate pointed out to me before they paraded into Persons Auditorium yesterday, this is Marlboro, and you can wear pretty much what you want.
In addition to being the rainiest commencement in recent memory, this year’s parade was marked by more unique variations on the cap and gown than I can recall from years of yore. Sari Brown wore a traditional pollera in keeping with her field research in Bolivia, and Alexandra Spohrer wore a pleated chiffon dress right out of Grand Hotel, consistent with her study of costume in performance. Devin Green wore his trademark bare feet and Thea Schneider, who studied the physiology of sled dogs, wore an Alaskan Malamute hat that made everyone’s tails wag. There was pretty much every possible departure from the somber academic garb, all the way from elegant lace to the timeless, just-rolled-out-of-bed look highly favored on campus.
Oh, there were speeches of course. President Ellen made everyone feel as welcome as if she were sitting down with us to tea and cider donuts, and senior speaker Jonathan Jones talked about finding family on Potash Hill. Claudine Brown, director of education at the Smithsonian Institution, gave a rousing commencement address, remembering the many turns in her path to professional fulfillment. I found it more than a little auspicious, given the expressive outfits of so many graduates, that Claudine started out majoring in fashion design. But I have to say, the highlight of the ceremony for me was the musical interlude, Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” played by senior Zach Pearson and music professor Stan Charkey on dueling electric guitars. Okay, call me sentimental.
Check here for videos of commencement, to be posted soon.