Yale Bulletin
and Calendar

May 31-June 21, 1999Volume 27, Number 33

Senior Class Day

Gergen, Adviser to Presidents, Tells Graduates:
'The world ahead demands not just your head but your heart'

While members of Yale's last class of the 20th century huddled together beneath shared umbrellas to shield themselves from a pounding rain, former presidential adviser David Gergen '63 called upon the graduating seniors to make their mark on the world by becoming a generation of "healers" focused on restoring the nation's "soul."

In his Class Day address on the rain-soaked Old Campus on May 23, the editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, political commentator and Yale trustee told the seniors that he has no doubts that they can fulfill that challenging task.

In fact, while some have described the current crop of college students -- dubbed "Generation X" -- as selfish, cynical and unmotivated, Gergen said the members of the Class of 1999 and their successors among younger classes of Yale students have disproved those claims.

"[A] new spirit has been sweeping across this campus in recent years -- and your hearts are aflame with it now," Gergen told his audience of 1,361 soon-be-graduates, who were joined by their families and friends for the Class Day ceremony. "It is the spirit of service -- service to others, service to community. And if you carry that spirit with you after today, you can change the world."

Since the days of the American Revolution, said Gergen, each new generation in the nation has "blazed its own trail." He praised the parents in the audience and other members of his own generation for persevering through the Vietnam War, Watergate, an oil crisis, recession and the hostage crisis in Iran, among other travails, to become a generation of "builders" who have made the United States a "powerhouse."

"Their monuments are all around us," said Gergen, crediting members of his generation with creating a nation with the strongest economy in the world, bringing forth such "cutting-edge" industries as biotechnology, electronic commerce and the Internet, and advancing science and medicine through their contributions to University research.

"But while we've been so busy building, a sickness has been creeping into this country," Gergen cautioned the seniors. "It's a sickness of the soul. We saw its face a few weeks ago in Littleton, Colorado, and then again, a few days ago in Conyers, Georgia. But we have known for some time now that all was not well. Yes, we have our tall monuments of prosperity, but at their base, many Americans are struggling to hold on. They are looking for a helping hand -- and many can't find it."

Complacency, Gergen warned, is not an option at a time when the United States has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, divorce and single-parent families of any nation in the industrialized world. "Yours is the generation that must rebuild the American family -- and you can," Gergen urged the seniors.

Gergen also cited the high rate of children living in poverty and increasing prison populations, as well as a high prevalence of guns to which troubled teenagers have easy access, as examples of the nation's ills. Likewise, he noted that up to 43 million Americans remain medically uninsured and that African-American and Latino children continue to score below their white classmates on school mastery tests.

The generation to which the Class of 1999 belongs, Gergen urged, must "put children first" and "end this culture of violence." He suggested that the graduating seniors focus on ensuring "that all Americans are treated with equal dignity," support the advancement of women and members of minority groups to positions of leadership, and help protect the environment, among other initiatives.

"In short, the world ahead demands not just your head but your heart," he told his audience. "There is much that needs to be healed. The 20th century that we are leaving has seen a triumph of technology. The 21st century that you create must see a triumph of the soul."

Examplars of service. During his speech, Gergen singled out six Yale seniors as exemplars of commitment to community service and asked each of them to stand. Classmates cheered as Gergen described Julio Gonzalez' work as a New Haven alderman and advocate for Latinos (see page 11-A); Marshall Scholar Jillian Cutler's devotion to helping the disabled; Jonathan Merson's commitment to sick and disadvantaged children; Peter Stein's grassroots work in cooperation with residents of the Dixwell neighborhood of New Haven; and Nicole Tuchinda's activism on behalf of children and as cofounder of the Social Justice Network. In addition, he touted the efforts of Reid Lerner, captain of the men's tennis team, as copresident of the community-service-focused Student Athlete Outreach Committee; and of Rhodes Scholar Siobhan Peiffer, who worked with gifted, but disadvantaged, middle school students.

Many of the seniors bowed their heads and several cheered when Gergen also recounted Suzanne Jovin's support of people with mental retardation as a volunteer for the Yale chapter of Best Buddies. "[T]he spirit of Suzanne Jovin will remain with this class forever," said the Yale trustee about the seniors' classmate, who was slain in December.

The Class Day speaker concluded his address with a story about a game played by young boys in ancient Athens. Determined to trick a wise old man, one of the boys hid a bird behind his back and then asked the elder if the bird was dead or alive. If the man answered that the bird was dead, the boy planned to open his hand and let the bird fly away. If he said the bird was alive, the boy planned to crush it to death in his hand.

As the story goes, related Gergen, when asked if the bird was dead or alive, the wise man answered, "My son, that choice is in your hands."

"Will you be one of this world's greatest generations?" Gergen then asked his audience. "My friends, that choice is now in your hands."

An age-old rivalry. Class Day festivities officially began with the procession of seniors onto the Old Campus dressed in their graduation gowns and -- as is the Class Day custom -- wearing headgear of their choice. While colorful umbrellas obscured many of the students' head toppings, some braved the pelting rain without protection to show off their creations. These included a rubber Yoda figure of "Star Wars" fame, a towering bouquet of flowers and a cardboard pineapple. Gergen joined in the fun of the tradition by donning one student's oversized red sombrero when he first stepped up to the microphone.

Stephen H.C. Kraus, secretary of the Class of 1999, roused his classmates at the start of his Welcome Address by mentioning Yale's age-old rivalry with Harvard. He recalled President John F. Kennedy's remarks upon receiving an honorary degree from Yale: "Today I have achieved the best of both worlds -- a Yale degree and a Harvard education." In a booming voice, Kraus declared, "With all due respect to our former president, I would like to suggest today that JFK was mistaken. Class of 1999, we have achieved the best of both worlds: a Yale degree and a Yale education."

Harvard students, Kraus stated, could never match the spirit and camaraderie of the Class of 1999. He recalled that not only did Yale "destroy" Harvard in "The Game" of 1998, but that Yalies continued to show their spirit at festivities after the game, where they outnumbered their rivals 10 to 1, even though they were on Harvard's home turf. He then led his classmates in a boisterous rendition of a Yale football song: "Bulldog, bulldog, bow wow wow/Eli Yale/Bulldog, bulldog, bow wow/Our team will never fail..."

Kraus also recalled President Richard C. Levin's declaration in his Class of 1999 Freshman Address that they had come to a "serious place." "Indeed, we've been at, and benefited from, this serious place," said Kraus. "Serious about the academic, serious about the development of the intellect, and serious about the unquestioned quality of the degree we are about to receive. But we also came to a place that was serious about the rest of life as well -- the development of the whole person, and most importantly, serious about fun. All of the things that make the Yale education the best in the world."

Awards and prizes. Thirteen members of the Class of 1999 were honored with prizes for scholastic or athletic achievements, personal characteristics or commitment to community service. This number includes a posthumous award to Suzanne Jovin. Jeremy C. Marwell was honored with two of Yale College's top prizes, the Alpheus Henry Snow Prize and the Waren Memorial High Scholarship Prize for the top scholar in the humanities.

In addition, six faculty members received teaching prizes at the ceremony.

Memories and Ivy vines. Following another Class Day custom, seniors Nicholas Frankfurt and Itamar Moses presented a tongue-in-cheek history of the Class of 1999. The two joked that they were reducing their class' four years and the $120,000 they paid for their Yale education to a mere eight minutes of "history," and said that trying to describe the "universal" Yale experience was a challenge.

"We've created a pair of special glasses, called the 'Brod Headroom 2000,' which will allow you to experience Yale through the eyes of a universal Yale student," quipped Frankfurt, as he and Moses put on the special eyewear. Their classmates let out occasional howls and cheers as Frankfurt and Moses recalled such happenings as Yale taking the number-one spot in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking of colleges and universities, winning the 1998 Yale-Harvard football game and passing in -- at long last -- senior essays.

The Ivy Ode, which is traditionally read in an esoteric language, was presented in English by Caroline W. Trowbridge, who composed this year's ode, and then recited in Latin by Natasha Lightfoot. The ode typically describes a symbolic connection between the growth of the ivy vine and the flourishing of the graduating class. Part of this year's symbolic ode reads:

And we who also live within these walls

Must seem a tangling mass of budding lives,

Who've hailed success by meeting every call

For passions, talent, and a will that drives.

Yet well we know the trials underlying

These, our radiant days which seem so deftly steered:

Each stubborn choice, each vain distracting hope,

Each painful thought of ones we've lost -- all vying

For care and time, all voices we must hear,

Confront, command, as through this maze we grope.

As the ode was read, Class Day co-chairs Kameka M. Dempsey, Katherine Ivers and Bryan A. Koplin planted the ivy in honor of their class and dedicated a stone in front of Vanderbilt Archway. Vanderbilt Hall was chosen as the site for the planting of the ivy in memory of Suzanne Jovin and Kenneth Yamaoka, the two members of the Class of 1999 who passed away before the completion of their time at Yale and who both resided in Vanderbilt during their first year on campus.

"Bright College Years." As the rain pummeled down, many parents and guests at the ceremony began searching for cover before the traditional finale, the singing of the alma mater "Bright College Years." Many took refuge in Battell Chapel, where they could view the ceremony's conclusion on a large projection screen. Others, drenched from head to toe, refused to depart from their near-graduate relatives or friends, and took the opportunity to move in closer to the student seating section to take photos of their equally wet loved ones.

Garbed in their cold, water-logged black gowns, most of the members of the Class of 1999 still managed a smile as they followed the tradition of waving their white handkerchiefs in the air during the last line of "Bright College Years": "For God, For Country, and for Yale!"

Seconds later, the vision of row upon row of waving, wet, white handkerchiefs against a gray sky was replaced by scurrying black forms beneath colorful bouncing umbrellas, as the soon-to-be-graduates raced for the Old Campus gateways anxious for some cover and warmth, and another step closer to their closing moments at Yale.

-- By Susan Gonzalez

C O M M E N C E M E N T1 9 9 9


Baccalaureate Address

Honorary Degrees

Senior Class Day

Teaching Prizes

Scholastic Prizes

Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize

Athletic Awards

David Everett Chantler Prize

Other Undergraduate Honors

Wilbur Cross Medals

Graduate Student Awards


Yale celebrates 298th Commencement
Yale launching a more user-friendly home page on the World Wide Web
Anthony T. Kronman reappointed as Dean of Law School
Festival will bring world of art and ideas to city
Endowed Professorships
New Haven attorney Julie Carter joins Office of General Counsel
To eat well, relax at the table, advises master chef Pépin
Reunion programs will both educate and entertain returning alumni
Some Yale graduates dancing down a different path
Yale's new student-built solar car headed for Sunracye '99
New alumnae's nursing training included health work overseas
Harold Samuel dies; brought musicians' archives to Yale
Dining staff friendliness ranks high on survey
Prostate Cancer Awareness Stamp to be unveiled at campus event
Conference to explore the future of language
Dr. William F. Collins is recognized for lifetime contributions to neurosurgery

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David Gergen -- in the back row wearing a baseball cap -- poses with Yale College seniors holding the banner for the Class of 1999.