One more commencement photo for now. It was taken in 1982, when alumnus Bill Broyles, ’66, soon to be named editor of Newsweek, was the speaker. I think it must have been snapped before the ceremony at the robing, but I may be wrong about that and I can’t quite make out where they are.
Broyles is on the left, his classmate and Rice faculty member Ken Kennedy is in the middle and English professor Alan Grob is at right. I saw this and instantly thought of Milton’s “Lycidas.”
To understand why, you’ll have to go read a couple of short pieces. The first was written by my friend Patrick Kurp on his stunning blog, Anecdotal Evidence, just months before Ken Kennedy’s death in 2007. The second is a talk that Broyles gave at Rice in 2003. It’s a little longer (though still well worth reading), so I’ll go right to its powerful ending:
We saw on-screen today President Kennedy’s speech at Rice announcing we were going to the Moon. I was there, in the audience. Wearing my beanie. A slime. And I was at Rice a year later when President Kennedy was murdered. We were stunned, heartbroken, grief-stricken. All our professors canceled their classes for the next day. All except Alan Grob, my English professor. We were surprised. Dr. Grob was an admirer of the president and a Democrat himself. We went to his class sullen and sad and resentful. Who was he to drag us into an English lesson on a day when real life was so overpowering? But then Dr. Grob entered, he opened a book, and he read “Lycidas,” by John Milton. The assigned text for the day, and a poem about grieving for a man of great promise dying too young.It was a transcendent example of how literature can give structure to unruly human emotions, how art can channel grief. How it can comfort and connect us.It struck me like a bolt of lightning. I knew, then, that somehow, in my own way, I would try to do that. Dr. Grob changed my life that day.