Rachel writes: Commencement! A final blog post.

Since I wrote my last blog entry, I discovered that I had actually made it just under the wire after all and was able to submit my final, formatted thesis draft  in time for May graduation!

Commencement. Chatting with a new friend, Heather (left). I discovered that we shared the same thesis director.

The last few weeks have been intense: printing and sending off copies of my final thesis draft (total no. of pages, including bibliography, front matter, and appendices: 254–that’s a lot of printing!) to my thesis director and to the ALM office; sending off the grade-form for my thesis director to complete and return to Dean Schopf’s office; two rounds of format reviews, with personalized attention from the amazingly knowledgeable and helpful ALM office staff; then sending off the corrected final manuscript to the bindery.

And a library book, among the forty or so volumes I returned in recent weeks, went missing, causing me to panic, since library accounts need to be settled before you can graduate. The missing book was a slender pamphlet with yellow paper binding, which I had tucked inside another book on the same subject, so it would not go astray. When I looked online at my library account to find that the book was listed as still checked out to me, I emailed Widener Library and explained that the pamphlet was safe inside a book with a similar call-number and which had a dark-blue binding. A librarian emailed back to say the pamphlet was right where I said it was! So my library account is not in arrears. I will sorely miss the Harvard libraries and their wonderful staff.

All this while working full-time–and putting in lots of over-time hours, since my assistant was recently promoted and my new assistant doesn’t start until July. As one of the ALM staff suggested, “Sleep is over-rated.” Pulling off these final bits in the process was a balancing act, an exercise not in time-management but in severe time-rationing.

Word processing: I learned how to suppress page numbers and how to merge two PDFs to create one document–anyone want tips? I’m glad to help. I confess that these were skills I despaired of acquiring and had even looked around for someone to hire to complete the formatting for me. But I somehow managed it, though it often felt like a wrestling match between me, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Acrobat–and my cats, who never stopped trying to horn in on lap space as I worked.

On May 15 I was honored to participate in the annual ALM Thesis Forum. Twelve presenters chosen from among the fifty-eight graduating this May gave talks about their research–six of us on May 15 and six on May 16 (I had to miss the evening of the 16th). I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss my thesis with current ALM candidates, fellow graduates, and other guests–it was a great evening, and I was floored by the brilliance and inventiveness of my fellow students. Friends from my first pro-seminar, as well as from other courses, attended–it was wonderful to have a chance to catch up and re-connect in this context.

A lovely reception for graduates was held on May 22 at the elegant Harvard Faculty Club. It was a great chance to meet so many ALM graduates from fields other than mine and chat with them about their research.

ALM reception, Faculty Club.

Among his valuable remarks at the ALM reception, Dean Shinagel made the bold prediction that the weather on Commencement day would be fair. He also managed a notable word on the value of “Clarissa” relative to “Paradise Lost.”

Commencement on May 24 was what I would call a “total immersion” experience. The day began at 6:45 AM when we all met at 51 Brattle to don our regalia and choke down a biscuit or two.

Regalia donned, we chat, sip coffee, and prepare to march together to the Yard.

Milling about the early-morning crowd afforded an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

Dean Schopf was stunning in her to-die-for regalia.

Extension School graduates carry stalks of wheat, commemorating the original fee for a course: two bushels of wheat.

We are handed symbolic stalks of wheat as we prepare to process.

Led by bagpipers, we processed to the Yard.

The weather was glorious, just as Dean Shinagel had sagely predicted.

We were on our feet for about two hours before we gratefully took our seats in the Tercentenary Theater, the area of the Yard between Widener Library and Memorial Church.

The view from the Extension School seating, Tercentenary Theater.

The ceremony for awarding Extension School master’s degrees was held in the storied First Parish Church across the street from Massachusetts Hall; as Dean Schopf pointed out, Harvard College commencement ceremonies took place regularly in the Church from 1833-1873.

Dean Sue Schopf addresses the crowd from the pulpit at the First Parish Church.

I was so thrilled and honored to have received two prizes: for my academic record, the Thomas Small Prize–Thomas Small received his ALM at age 89 in 1983, having emigrated from Lithuania in 1900. My father’s family also emigrated from Lithuania, so being honored with this prize means a lot to me. Jackie Cox-Crite presented to me the Annamae and Allan R. Crite Prize, which recognizes a thesis on the visual arts. I am extra proud to be the recipient of this prize–I have long deeply admired Allan Crite’s work; you can see some examples of his marvelously expressive paintings here: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/results/?id=1047 or here http://www.metmuseum.org/search-results?ft=crite&x=0&y=0. Allan Rohan Crite is one of our most important African-American visual artists–he received his ALB from Harvard Extension in 1968. Crite was a visionary whose work is vibrant with humanity, and I am so honored by the association.

I was struck by the suggestion made by one of the speakers earlier in the morning that Harvard graduates do not simply rest on their laurels but rather persist in dreaming up and undertaking new projects and enterprises, continually developing new goals, asking not “why” but “why not?” I hope to follow the suggestion, and with the bar set high by my Harvard education, to come up with some grand plans for creating something fascinating and new forthwith.

With many thanks to everyone in the ALM office for all of their help and patience over the past several years–especially these past few weeks–and to all of my instructors and fellow scholars, I close this blog with the current entry. Good luck to all, and I look forward to reading subsequent Extension School blogs right here or hereabouts.

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