“Hey, that’s the year I was born!”
The speaker was a beaming member of the Class of 1999, and he was pointing at the flag held by the representative of the Class of 1978 standing next to me. With other alumni, who, like us, were dressed in academic regalia and held the flags of their respective classes, we had lined Locust Walk to honor and welcome this year’s graduates as they paraded by on their way to Commencement at Franklin Field.
The student didn’t pause—in fact, he may have hurried on, disturbed by our stunned expressions—and was soon lost in the flowing stream of caps and gowns. We looked at each other, calculating the numbers. Yes, it was possible. “That wasn’t funny,” he said. “No, not a bit,” I agreed, thinking of all the Penn freshmen and sophomores born in 1980—and it became even less so each of the several more times it occurred. (Later, we learned that the guy from the Class of 1977, who was on the other side of the Walk, had had an even harder time of it. One student had even asked to touch his flag.)
But we’ll have our revenge, eventually. As my companion pointed out, with the wisdom of his advanced years, “There are people being born right now, and someday they’ll be graduating from college.”
Time and its passage, a staple subject at rites of transition such as Commencement, seemed to figure especially prominently this year. Several allusions were made to the fact that this class would be the last to graduate in this century and, depending on where you stand on the January 1, 2000 vs. January 1, 2001 question, the final one of the current millennium as well.
Our Commencement coverage, including a summary of Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s speech, photos and descriptions of this year’s honorary-degree recipients begins on page 16 in “Gazetteer.” Also, as a reminder to the 5,000 or so alumni who made it back to campus this year for Alumni Weekend and a taste of what they missed for those who didn’t, we offer our annual photo essay on the festivities, starting on page 46.
To hear some Phillies fans talk, you would think it had been a millennium—or at least a century—since Philadelphia fielded a winning baseball team. That impatience is just one of the pressures on Phillies president and CEO David Montgomery C’68 WG’70, who is profiled in our cover story by senior editor Samuel Hughes. Sam, an ardent fan whose opinion of the team’s prospects did several dozen about-faces during the writing, pursued this story from the executive box to the “nose-bleed” 700-level seats in the team’s unloved and, Montgomery and the Phils hope, soon to be ex-home, Veterans Stadium.
On a considerably darker note, also in this issue, Peter Nichols CGS’93 reports on a seminar offered in the spring that delved into the experience of war in the 20th century through firsthand accounts of front-line combat from the First World War through Vietnam. And Derek Davis C’61 writes of a life tragically cut short and how that tragedy was compounded. While researching a history of the Penn Law School, Davis stumbled on the story of Roy Wilson White, an 1898 graduate and lecturer of high promise, whose murder sparked a massive manhunt that led to the arrest and apparently unjust execution of three black men.
Finally, another annual ritual is the alumni magazine awards given out by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). This year the Gazette was honored with a Grand Gold Medal in the Best Articles of the Year category for “Through a Glass Darkly,” by Samuel Hughes, which appeared in our Nov/Dec 1998 issue. That piece and four others written by Sam or Susan Lonkevich, our assistant editor, also received a Silver Medal for Periodical Staff Writing. The cover of our Nov/Dec 1998 issue also won a Bronze Medal for Visual Design in Print.
— John Prendergast C’80