The back of Gary Wills’ head…


Another year, and another graduation at Bard. As the chair of my program, it’s my responsibility to read out the names of the students who are graduating from my program, so that they can walk on to the stage and receive their handshake and diploma from the the president of the college. It’s a corny thing, but I enjoy it every year, and even though all of our classes take place in New York City, I always pester the students to make the trip upstate for the event. I don’t like reading the words “in absentia”, I tell them, attempting to lower my brows menacingly. This year it worked and they all came up, bringing along some family members and looking as adorable as adults can.

I had some mother hen moments, trying to herd them from spot to spot, get them all lined up and into their regalia. I know, embarrassing.

The speaker was New York’s Governor, David Patterson. We’ve been getting the politicians lately. He came off as personable, a bit self deprecating, and seemed to connect with the students. The speech was a mess however, veering from personal anecdote to interesting historical nuggets to what seemed to be a pledge to develop state-wide high speed rail. I’m all for infrastructure, but as a talk to the community it all seemed a little cobbled together. My over feeling was, here’s a good guy, who has some ideas, and is a bit at sea. It was better however than the over produced pre-campaign speech Bloomberg subjected us to a couple of years ago.

Later in the ceremony, an undergraduate seized the mic, and attempted to protest something. Not so unusual for a Bard graduation actually, but the rant, while it did disrupt the procedings for a bit, was also classic Bard: Long on passion and painfully short on preparation: once he had the mic, it was clear that he had no notes about what he wanted to say and began stumbling along a number of tangents. The overall gist seemed to be that the school was an institution that enforced normalcy and unthinking conformity just like so many others, and that graduating seniors had simply acquiesced to that process. But really what happened was him starting to try to say something, being heckled, losing the thread and then starting over. Leon (Bard’s President) even stepped forward at one point to quiet the crowd and give him an additional chance, but he couldn’t get out whatever his point was. He finally left the stage in frustration. It was heartbreaking in a way, because he had gotten so close, was at the center of attention, and then blew it.


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