While “Let It Be” by the Beatles played from a boom box perched on a folding chair on the steps of Coxe Hall, five members of the Classes of 1972 processed to their seats to participate in a mock graduation ceremony-an event coordinated during Reunion weekend for the classmates who 40 years ago were unable to attend their commencement ceremony.
Organized by this year’s Reunion Committee and Chair-elect of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, the effort began with the simple idea of giving back a missed day to Shirley Napolitano Banker ’72, who,was unable to join her classmates as they said their farewells to undergraduate life.
After digging up the 1972 program and talking with classmates, the idea blossomed into a ceremony for others who missed the original including Ken Damask ’72, HWS Associate Professor of Art Mark Jones ’72 and Michael Nemser ’72. A platform party was also assembled. President Mark D. Gearan played the role of former President Allan A. Kuusisto and offered remarks on behalf of President Richard Nixon. Thomas Howard ’72 acted as renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner who was the 1972 commencement speaker. Two members of the faculty who were fairly new to the Colleges in 1972 also joined in the commencement – Professor Emeritus of Political Science Joseph DiGangi and Interim Provost and Professor of Economics Pat McGuire HON ’10, L.H.D. ’12.
The 1972 graduation ceremony that these alums missed was an historic event. Going against decades of tradition, the graduates of the Classes of 1972 did not have the Colleges’ President distribute their diplomas but instead they gave each other their diplomas. They also sat together with Hobart graduates and William Smith graduates sitting next to one another.
And for the first time in the Colleges’ history, a student speaker was added to the program. At the “recommencement” ceremony, John Baron ’72 reclaimed his place at the podium and offered the same words he spoke four decades ago.
“The essential fact that we have come to understand is that people are the institutions, people must control the institutions rather than the institutions controlling the people,” echoed Baron. “Hobart and William Smith are many things. Above all, they are the people who live here.”
The poignancy of Baron’s speech, illuminating the years traveled with friends and time spent on campus, in the dining hall, in dorms, was not tarnished by time, and those attending the “recommencement” were deeply moved. “The ceremony was even more meaningful than we hoped it would be,” explains Zupan. “It’s hard even for me to understand why it was so moving; I can’t put into words how much it meant to us.”
“Forty years later, the bonds and friendships we forged were not just out of the proximity of being together for four years – they were forged because there was a tremendous press during those times for authenticity among these classmates, these friends,” said Baron. “We were trying to figure out in a world and a nation that seemed completely upside-down: how do you live a responsible and moral life? I think most of us still pursue those ideals today in all endeavors.”
As the “recommencement” came to a close, the opening chords of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” resonated across the rainy Quad, pulling a sigh of remembrance, pride, and peace from each of the attendees who – in the true spirit of their classes – began to sing along. “There’s something happening here. But what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there. Telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop. Children, what’s that sound? Everybody look – what’s going down?”