ClichÃ©, I know, but I presume that is what calling it “Commencement Day” is all about. Is that not right?
Yesterday was both a happy and slightly sad day for me, because I’m a bit of a softy when it comes down to it. Quite a number of the students I taught over the last few years graduated yesterday. While I was so pleased to see them all happy and looking forward to moving on, and meet their parents and siblings, I was also a bit sad, since I won’t be seeing them around the USC campus any more. I feel like I’m losing a number of good friends, which seems like an odd thing to say given that I don’t really know them all as friends in the usual sense…. But I got accustomed to seeing them around, spending time with them talking, laughing, worrying, puzzling… getting coffee, milkshakes… They became a real part of my life for a while… Now they are off to take on the world. I feel a bit like a parent… perhaps I’m getting broody?
The campus was lovely yesterday, even more than it usually is. The ground staff become obsessive-compulsive in the few days leading up to the day and clean up and repair things that were not in obvious need of clean up and repair. How do the ground staff time their roses so well to peak on commencement day? Impressive.
It’s just great to see how they turn the central part of the campus into an outdoor seated area…the main venue for all the speeches from the President, Provost, etc… the big commencement speech (from Ted Koppel this year) and so forth. Immediately following that, the students parade off to numerous satellite ceremonies in tents all around the campus to have another set of speeches, and the reading out of individual names. (There were 8000 or so graduating….. they had to read out the names in parallel.)
There were a lot of students that I taught graduating yesterday that I’ll miss. I certainly did not get pictures of all of them, but here are a few that I did get to see and take some pictures of (some with family, one with me): Jeff Pennington, part of my research team here, is off to Stanford to work in the high energy physics group. He’s been working on string theory projects with me for two years now, and it’s been a blast. Pavitra Krishnaswamy is off to MIT to apply her physics to biomedical engineering problems. She’s been fruitfully treading the borderline between Physics and Engineering here for a while now, and now she’s going to put them together in the form of a Ph.D. Lauren Schenkman (who graduated as a Renaissance scholar!) will be going back to Edinburgh (where she’s been the last year) to spend her summer there, including working at the excellent annual Festival. She’ll then be applying to physics graduate school too. I spent many happy sessions chatting around various topics with these students, recommending books and other extra reading, answering questions…. speculating wildly about ideas and so forth. I’ll miss that… but it’s just great to see them moving on to new horizons….even if it means no more milkshakes with them at the West Hollywood Mel’s Drive-In. Sigh.
Other ceremonies take place too, such as commissioning into various parts of the armed forces. Below you see Alexandra Schnieders -who just finished my electromagnetism class- with her family, in her ceremony proudly adjusting her new headgear (an officer gave her a new, fancier hat in exchange for her old – I don’t really know what the terminology is here, sorry) and starting her career in the Navy. She’ll be using my electromagnetism instruction there as part of her technical expertise, she told me.
Among the other degree recipients in yesterday’s group was Clint Eastwood! (Enlargeable bad shot of him on video screen right.) He did not take any of my classes, or anybody’s for that matter. It was an honorary degree (read citation here, as well as those of others). He did get a huge cheer when it was his turn. Must have made his day. Everybody loves Clint.