History and comedy share the
stage as Pomona adds 362 new
names to its ranks of alumni.
began as a conventionaleven sappycommencement speech, tossed
back and forth like a pingpong ball between seniors Jonathan Korn and
Daniel Clark, chosen by their classmates to speak at this, Pomonas
109th commencement ceremony.
... Graduation is a ceremony that is timeless in character and steeped
in the finest traditions of our heritage, recited Korn.
Clark began, then faltered. I cant do this, he muttered.
Korn: Our individual honor is just part of a greater whole
Korn, cut the crap. Its a pack of lies.
Dan, they gave us this speech. We have to read it.
Korn, Im sorry, I cant.
Dont you want to graduate?
Laughter from the audience.
Korn removed his glasses, looking helpless. What are we supposed
Korn, we need to eat the speech.
Eat the speech?
Korn, I have a hunger that can only be satiated by eating this speech.
Cheers and laughter erupted from the Class of 2002. And with Wagners
Ride of the Valkyries as their speech-eating music, the two
seniors, both members of the improvisational comedy group Without A Box,
proceeded to eat their speech. Good speech, commented Korn
It was, in many ways, classic Pomonaan intermingling of tradition
and irreverence, serious reflection and a sense of funas Pomona
awarded 362 new graduates their diplomas in that event with the curiously
forward-looking name: commencement.
summed up the message of their speechand in some ways, the message
of the daylike this: Dont let this day lull you into
complacency. Were not finished making mistakes. We are not grown
up. And we are not done learning.
The other speaker chosen by the seniors seemed to pick up on that theme.
Just about every really important thing you will learn in your life,
you will learn after leaving Pomona College, said Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist Bill Keller 70. In saying this, I dont mean
to insult you or your fine teachers, and I certainly dont mean to
upset your parents, who could just as easily have bought his-and-hers
Mercedes SL500 roadsters for the price of the diploma you will get today.
Rest assured, the time and money spent here were not wasted. But what
youve been given in this lovely oasis of ideas is just a very high-quality
set of toolssome language, a lot of data, problem-solving skills,
the gift of argument.
Real life, he went on, starts now. Thats probably
why they call it commencement.
Keller went on to offer the group a few insights drawn from his own close-up
observation of some of the centurys great reform leaders during
a remarkable career as a foreign correspondent, managing editor and now
columnist for The New York Times (see Exact
Jennie Keith '64
Also addressing the Class of 2002 were three recipients of honorary degrees:
Jennie Keith 64, the Centennial Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore
College, recalled the stress of working with a piano professor who sat
behind her poised to leap forward to defend whatever composer I
was mangling, an experience that taught her that learning, especially
from a great teacher, is seldom comfortable.
And when youre in that situation, she said. Id
like to be that little voice in your ear saying, Go ahead, try,
be uncomfortable. You might learn something.
Keith served as provost of Swarthmore College from 1992 through 2001.
Her research focuses on the influence of culture and society on the lives
of older people around the world.
Arturo Madrid, the Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor
of the Humanities at Trinity University, paid homage to the many Latino
and Latina interlopers in academe who helped pave the way
for minorities in higher education and other American circles of power.
We, my generation, have done much to change American society,
he said, but there is still much to be done.
Madrid was the 1997 recipient of the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities
from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his extraordinary
contributions toward developing the intellectual resources of the Latino
community and pioneering scholarship on Chicano literary and cultural
With tongue in cheek, Joseph Stiglitz, co-recipient of the 2002 Nobel
Prize in Economics, challenged Korn and Clarks contention that there
was nothing truly special about the day. Statistics show that at
the end of this day, your expected lifetime earnings will be substantially
higher than they were at the beginning, he said, to laughter and
applause. Stiglitz currently holds joint professorships at Columbia Universitys
Economics Department, School of International and Public Affairs Graduate
Business School. From 1993 to 1997, he served as a member and then as
the Chairman of the Presidents Council of Economic Advisers and
as a member of the Presidents cabinet. He is the father of Pomona
graduating senior Edward Stiglitz and Pomona sophomore Julia Stiglitz.