Sunday, May 24, 2009

Commencement 2009

The 210th Deerfield Commencement took place on Sunday, May 24th under a mix of sun and clouds. Mr. Brush, concluding his 43rd and final year as a member of the Deerfield faculty, was Grand Marshall, with Frank Henry pulling up the rear of the procession down Albany Road. The event took place under the large reunion tent in the presence of over 1,000 family members and friends. Two large video screens on either side of the dais provided additional viewing, and a professional camera crew caught everything for posterity (and sale). Not surprisingly, the service is more secular and the class far more diverse than 40 years ago. While the basic contour of the Commencement program is the same, it has changed with the times, and the staging of the event has become a much bigger production than when we received our diplomas in the Memorial Building.

For a school that has no shortage of traditions, there are new ones which have sprung up since we were there which would make you feel ancient. Three of the more important ones seem to be the “Senior Cry” (c. 1994) the night before in the Memorial Building, the donning of Class ties by the boys (c. 1981) and the lighting of cigars in front of the doors of John Williams immediately following Commencement (date unknown). The Senior Cry, which broke up shortly after 2:00 AM, is an opportunity for the graduating class to speak in a public forum about their Deerfield years and brings all of them full circle to when they first stood up as incoming students and announced who they were. All but one nonconformist wore the tie selected by this year’s class which is a traditional dark green silk tie with the doors and the class year in white. As for the cigar smoking tradition, it seems an important differentiator to the boys in a world where the girls are playing an increasingly important role. For the third year in a row, an Ivy-bound girl won the Deerfield Cup, despite the fact that girls were substantially outnumbered in the graduating class. That will no longer be the case next year for the first time since the school went co-ed in the fall of 1988.

Another apparent tradition which you can’t miss is that almost all the students, after receiving their diplomas and giving the Head of School a hug, slipped her a penny, presumably for good luck. The penny won’t go far, but 97% of this year’s class made a pledge to Annual Support. Their parents, who I was charged with corralling this year, have done an admirable job in a bleak economy and raised a bit over $1 million to renovate “The Greer” which, since the mid-80’s, has occupied expanded space which we once knew as simply as the school store.

There were two extraordinary speeches by members of the Class of ’09 and an address by a member of the Class of ’97 who works as a producer at NBC. The only fly in the ointment of an otherwise perfectly orchestrated event was when a woman shouted out for someone to call 911 when it appeared that her husband was having either a heart attack or a stroke. The program resumed when, after a ten minute delay, he was pronounced OK and escorted out. All’s well that ends well.