About The Source April 8, 2009

2009 Commencement News

By Sandhya Subramanian

I am delighted to announce the names of our 2009 Commencement speaker; the 2009 recipients of honorary degrees and the Distinguished Service Award; and our 2009 Baccalaureate speaker. In addition, I would like to share with you some important changes in this year’s Commencement exercises.

We are honored to welcome Richard Haass ’73 back to Oberlin as our 2009 Commencement speaker. Mr. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to being a resource on the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. He has held leadership positions in the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council, and he was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for his contributions to the development and articulation of U.S. policy in 1991. Earlier in his career, following his graduation from Oberlin, he won the Rhodes Scholarship, earning the Master and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at Oxford University.

Our 2009 recipients of honorary degrees have likewise displayed major accomplishments in a wide range of fields. Lawrence N. Jones ’56, theologian and scholar, was the first African American to be appointed to an administrative position at the Union Theological Seminary. Bobbie Knable ’58, hailed as a “transformative” dean of students at Tufts University, similarly was a pioneer in her field as one of the first African American women to hold such an administrative position. Martha Lipson Lepow ’48 was one of just six women to graduate in her medical school class at Case Western Reserve University, and she has worked to improve children’s health for well over half a century. Adam Joseph Lewis, a philanthropist and environmentalist, was among the first donors to promote high-performance or green buildings more than a decade ago, and he has subsequently supported the development of ecological design in projects including the David Brower Center in Berkeley, the Aldo Leopold Center in Wisconsin, and the environmental studies center here at Oberlin. Robert Wurtz ’59 has had a long and illustrious career in neuroscience, focusing on how the brain processes sensory information for perception and the initiation of movement, and he was the founder of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research at the National Eye Institute. Likewise, our 2009 Distinguished Service Award winners, Mary and Steve Hammond, have contributed their considerable talents to the Oberlin community for the past 2o years as co-pastors of the Peace Community Church and community advocates.

We are also pleased to announce that The Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes, the chaplain of Harvard University, will be giving the address at this year’s Multifaith Baccalaureate Celebration. Professor Gomes is an acclaimed pastor, professor, and author, and is widely regarded as one of the United States’ most distinguished preachers.

In addition, I am happy to take this opportunity to share with you the results of the concerted efforts of this year’s Commencement Committee, charged by the president to enhance the Commencement program based on the experience of previous years while cutting costs in response to the current financial downturn. The committee has been reconfigured to include a broader group of representatives from the Office of the General Counsel and Secretary and the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, among several others.

Of particular note, the committee has endorsed the following changes that aim to minimize expenditures while maintaining the high quality of the Commencement program. In making these constructive modifications, the committee was especially anxious to preserve the centerpiece of the Commencement ceremony – the traditional procession of students, greeted by the faculty – and has ensured that this hallmark of the ceremony will remain unchanged. First, the Commencement ceremony stage will be oriented differently this year, backing up to Lorain Street, decreasing sun exposure and thereby creating greater comfort for faculty attendees as well as program participants seated on the central platform. Under this plan, the procession will enter Tappan Square at Professor and Lorain streets. As a consequence of this reorientation, the procession will no longer go through the Memorial Arch, which will address the concerns that many students and alumni have previously expressed about the role of the arch in the procession. Second, to eliminate the expense of designating an alternate rain location, the Commencement ceremony is now slated to take place on Tappan Square rain or shine, with appropriate attention to issues of safety and security. Efforts are also under way to examine proposals for providing a live feed of the ceremony to other interior locations on campus, if, for example, some individuals are not able to sit outside in extreme weather conditions. Third, the committee has sharply reduced the number of print publications and has designed a system to evaluate proposals for entertainment and other events during the weekend to decrease costs. As part of this initiative, the committee has revamped the Commencement and Reunion web site, which now offers an array of useful logistical and other information.

As with all annual events, we will be conducting a careful review following Commencement to identify areas for future improvement. As always, we welcome your input as we continue to seek the best possible environment for our guests and ourselves to celebrate this wonderful occasion.

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The Source is a service of the Office of Communications and is published every Wednesday during the academic year, except fall and spring breaks and the first week of winter term. Read more about the Source. To submit items, e-mail your information to  the.source@oberlin.edu.