Brandon writes: Things that don’t happen every day, happen all on the same day.

1. The Harvard Extension School turns 100 years old!

2. Shaking hands with the lightening-quick-witted Dean Shinagel, Harvard Extension School Dean since 1975!

3. Receiving sharks teeth from super-cool Professor George Buckley

4. Watching a beautiful cow graze in Harvard Yard like a rock star.

All happened on September 9th 2009.

Ok, so it took me two weeks before I wrote about this day, maybe I needed time to decompress from all the excitement.

It was hard to get out of bed that morning, but I remember thinking how much I would regret missing such an occasion that comes just once in one hundred years and that tripped my brain on and gave me the juice to get over to 64 Brattle Street for the 9:30 AM Harvard Extension School Centennial Breakfast. I was immediately rewarded for my efforts with some real juice, orange, and some tasty pumpkin and cranberry breads; when living on a college student budget free breakfasts are not to be missed. Then the unplanned surprises began, I met two people I knew only by name through email, Sarah Tan, and Leslie Helmuth. Let’s just say that without them the blog you are now reading would not exist, poof gone, never happened, but it did happen because they exist. Thank you Leslie and Sarah! So there I was talking to Sarah who has this cool Singapore accent, which actually sounds a bit British because they speak English in Singapore since it was colonized by England; look at that, it isn’t even 10 AM yet and I had already learned something. And then she hands me Dean Shinagel’s new book, “The Gates Unbarred: A History of University Extension at Harvard from 1910 -2009”. Next thing I know, Leslie introduces me to the king himself, Dean Shinagel, who signs my new copy of his book and shakes my hand. I didn’t know what to say so I just told him I was loving the school and smiled and he signed my book with a warm dedication to my mother Jacquie. Thrilled and speechless (doesn’t often happen) I shimmied over to hang with a few friends from the environmental management department, none other than: Leah Arnold and “The” Mike Mahoney, these are the die hard type students, the ones you will see at every event, rain or shine, sleet or snow; admirable types. And just as I was getting my words back, up comes George Buckley, Assistant Director of the entire Environmental Department and (super-cool) lecturer. All long job titles aside he is actually a big kid who has been at Harvard since age fifteen and never had to grow up, and thankfully so because when he gives a class lecture on oceans his explosive energy will have you thinking you’re on the ship with George sailing the open sea (check out his class ENVR E-110 next spring). And standing there with us that morning he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of sharks teeth and invites us each to take one. I’ve heard of John D. Rockefeller giving out shiny dimes, but sharks teeth, that’s awesome! I’m not sure what the other students made of this gracious gesture but looking at the white Florida Shark tooth in my hand I was instantly reminded of what a perfect artist nature is and how I can never, no matter how hard I try, ever make something so amazing, and it is that amazingness we are learning to appreciate and protect.

Then the gates to the auditorium were unbarred and we were welcomed in to have a seat for the main event. As I looked for a seat it was clear that all the front rows were taken, packed solid so I made my way to the upper rows. Once seated and looking down it was odd, all those seats at the front had been taken by a group that formed a unusually consistent visual rhythm in a pallet of silvery hues. The first speaker who took the podium, a very fashionably dressed woman, immediately dispelled any mystery by introducing us Extension School students to the Harvard Institute of Learning in Retirement (HILR) and then it was clear despite our age and hair color differences we were all just a bunch a students that liked being at Harvard and could happily stay and learn forever. Which reminds me of a favorite quote from Gandhi: Live each day as if it were your last, learn as if you were to live forever.

Another speaker introduced Dean Shinagel and then the real fireworks began. The Dean explained that all the written histories of Harvard had left out the Extension School entirely, and knowing the Extension Schools centennial was approaching he had decided to assemble the facts into his new book, originally titled Harvard After Dark. I’d like to see the cover art for that version of the book! What followed was an amazingly well crafted speech that took us, the audience, on a whirlwind adventure that begins on the steps of the Palace of Luxor in Egypt, where a dying man with the distinct last name of Lowell, re-writes his will to bequeath half his wealth to the city of Boston for the explicit purpose of developing a lecture series that would provide the public with first class free education. And like stepping into a time warp we journeyed from Egypt through the generations all the way up to present day, arriving with an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the miraculous chain of events that had transpired in order for us to be there on this very day. The icing on the top was watching the Dean respond to the questions and comments from the audience, I was in shear envy of the way he flawlessly generated clear and often witty answers every time completely winning the love of his audience.

The only thing that could follow such a morning and still surprise was the sight and warm fuzzy touch of a beautiful cow in Harvard Yard. For more details on that occurrence have a look at this article in Harvard Magazine.

And that concludes a phenomenally special day at Harvard. Do you know of another great Harvard event coming up? Please post it in the comments and I’ll see you there!

Special thanks to Harvard Extension School photographer Jeff Pike for sharing his photos of the Dean and Faith the Cow.

One Comment

  1. Michael Mahoney
    Posted September 23, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Nice job Bono. If you could simply get a talented guitar behind you and some creative drums and bass, I think your future holds promise as your descriptive evokes action and participation. Well done!

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