“We were most happy to cooperate,” Commencement 1953

There’s a crazy amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make commencement work. As it’s gotten bigger and more complicated the number of people who have tasks to perform before, during, and after the ceremonies has also grown. But even from the beginning there was no way to get around the basic physical cleanup and set up, probably the thing most important and least noticed.

I found myself touched by this exchange between Guy McBride, the marshal in charge of those arrangement in 1953, and Norman Willison, who would have been the boss of the grounds crew at that time. Its so polite, even gentlemanly, a relic of a more formal time:

A culture of generous cooperation (and even–usually–a sense of fun) still exists among the people who do these tasks for Rice commencement today. I’m a sucker for continuity and tradition and this pleases me greatly.

I can’t find a picture of the 1953 ceremony but here’s the procession in 1954. It looks so small!

Bonus: Marshals organizational meeting, 2018. No booze allowed.

Extra bonus: Put it all up, then take it all down.

What the heck, one more:

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Commencement Aftermath, 2018

I thought the 105th Rice commencement came off very well. There were five events over two days and the plenary ceremony on Saturday morning was all you could have asked for–intermittent cloud cover, a bit of a breeze, and a speaker who knew how to deliver a speech. I always get choked up at graduation. Not about the students, but about the faculty. Seeing my colleagues marching in their academic regalia, they suddenly seem inheritors of a deep and valuable tradition instead of just guys I have coffee with. It is a powerful (if only partial) antidote for the cynicism bred by modern bureaucratic organization.

I was a graduate marshal so most of what I saw had to do with getting them organized from our staging area in Duncan Hall:

So many cell phones–even while marching! Who the heck could they have been talking to?

Led by the GSA banner:

All hail the Ph.D. recipients, the newest inheritors of the tradition. Everyone stands while their degrees are conferred:

Bonus: A couple of updates. First, the color guard performed flawlessly (as best I could tell) and they looked quite smart in uniform.

Second, those fireworks on Friday night were a smash hit. This was taken by my friend, our campus videographer Brandon Martin.

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Friday Follies: Fireworks, 2018

The most interesting thing I saw on campus today was the preparation for tonight’s fireworks:

The guys could not have been more charming or more helpful–they gave me a pretty good tutorial on the technology of modern fireworks, which has thankfully come a long way since the days of lighting fuses with torches. I was also thankful that someone thought to move the site of the launch out to Founders Court from the quad (which always seemed like a dubious idea to me).

We don’t have very many images of commencement the other way around, that is, out on the front side of Lovett, as photographic discipline completely broke down after Dr. Lovett retired. Here’s a nice one I found recently, though, taken on June 5, 1955, before there was a lawn:

The second most interesting thing I saw on campus today was the color guard practicing for tomorrow’s plenary commencement. I was a bit concerned when they started but they got significantly better as I watched. They now have my full confidence:

Bonus: Sky Wonder Pyrotechnics rules.

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Fun in the Sun, 1967

I spend a lot of time reading old issues of the Thresher. Truly, that’s an understatement. I have stacks of bound volumes in my office at home and it’s a rare day that I don’t open at least one. They’re digitized and available online, of course, as is the custom these days, but there really isn’t any substitute for holding them in your hands.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is how in the last couple of issues each spring the ads change. It’s as though the local merchants felt they had to take advantage of that one last shot at bagging some student cash before they all headed off to wherever they went every summer. Hence the “fun in the sun” ads. This is a great example from Ed Nirken’s men’s store in the Village, dated 1967:

This one also ran in 1967 but it seems to have arrived from some alternate universe:

The late 1960s were strange, strange times.


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Times change but someone always has to set up the chairs.

Baccalaureate ceremony, 1916:

Two days ago:


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I was quite taken with this little article from the spring of 1958, when what is now called Beer Bike was still “the bike race.” I’m not interested in that at all, however. What caught my attention was Dr. Davies’s (former) bee hives, whose existence I had not previously suspected:

 I knew that we still have a bee hive somewhere so I walked around the edges of campus until I found it. It turned out to be even more charming than I expected:

Bonus: An alert colleague found these guys wandering around the quad this morning, apparently looking for the heron seating section.


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“Our Lab, November 1914”

The week before commencement is one of my favorite times of the year. Things feel almost placid after the chaos of finals and I enjoy watching the preparations out on the quad and the anticipation of the summer. I took advantage of the quiet this afternoon to dig into a collection that I haven’t spent a lot of time with, the Julian and Juliette Huxley Papers. There are a staggering number of photos in this collection and there’s no obvious place to plunge in so I needed a moment when I wasn’t pressed by other business.

Happily, I was rewarded with one of the nicest pictures of early campus I’ve ever come across. It is this, labeled by Huxley “Our Lab, November 1914. Davies in background.”:

It looks like they may still be moving into the then-brand new Physics Building, which housed the Biology Department for many years. Heaven only knows what all that machinery is about. The highlight here, though, is one of my heroes, the great Joseph Davies, who I would have missed entirely if Huxley hadn’t pointed him out to me. It must be one of the earliest images of him at Rice. This is the sort of thing that makes my job deeply satisfying.

Bonus: I think he would have loved this wild little corner of campus. I certainly do.

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