Next Gazetteer item | July/August
Contents | Gazette home
Between Two Worlds,
Under the Open Sky
The first image called up by poet Seamus Heaney
in his Commencement address to the Class of 2000 concerned the word unroofed.
Given the unseasonably chilly, Irish sort of rain falling onto Franklin
Field, it resonated.
Roman god Terminus, Heaney explained, was the god of boundariesof in-between-ness.
And he acknowledged that his own fascination with that ancient deity was
partly owing to the fact that he hails from Northern Ireland, where the
bordersphysical and culturalare highly charged.
god Terminus crossed boundaries, he continued in his gentle brogue. His
image was placed in the temple of Jupiter, at a place in the temple where
it was unroofed, open to the skyas if to suggest that [while] boundaries
are important here, nevertheless, the unbounded, open sky is the condition
which must never be forgotten.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence at Harvard University, recipient
of the 1995 Nobel Prize in literature and a two-time winner of the Whitbread
Book of the Year Award (most recently for his translation of Beowolf)observed
that Commencement is a moment of ritual separation, a movement from
the relatively knowable and fairly reliable world of the academy into
the wider world. As a result, there is a note of the ordinariness about
every graduation ceremony, and even if the rain isnt coming, there is
a sense of anxiety about it, too.
is a dream-like quality about Commencement, he added, but the veil trembles
just a little bit more mysteriously, I think, given the year 2000, and
a turning point at your life coinciding with a turning point in the era.
Everything is volatile.
the students that they were standing between two worlds, Heaney suggested
that after the ceremony, many of them would be photographed between their
parents and their professors, standing in that snapshot between those
youve got to know in the new life, and those to whom you belong in the
old life. Behind you is your natural habitat, if you like, and in front
of you is the prospect of invitation and test. And whatever binds you
is still there; whatever is unbounded is there in front of you. Youre
in between. He advised the graduates to understand that the in-between
condition is not to be regarded as disablingnot a confusion but a necessary
state, a consequence of the placement between your early beginnings and
your angelic potential.
Heaney then offered another, somewhat surreal
image, this one set in a medieval Irish monastery whose monks were holding
a meeting. As they deliberated, he said, they saw a ship sailing over
in the sky, going as if it were on the sea above them.
The ship stopped and dropped anchor, and a man came out of the ship,
and was swimming in the air, swimming as if after the anchor, down to
the bottom of the floor of the church. And when he arrived there, the
priest was so amazed that he began to hold and shake his hand and so on.
And the man said, For Gods sake, let me go, for you are drowning me.
And at that moment, he left again, swimming in the air of the church.
Heaney, that story was a kind of dream instruction, a parable about the
necessity of keeping the lines open between the two levels of your beingthe
levels of routine and revelation, where the visionary and the marvelous
two images of the unroofed space above the god of boundaries and of the
open space between the meeting of the sky with the man going up and down
in the airthey have a lot of wisdom implicit in them, said Heaney. I
share them with you this morning because I know that the University of
Pennsylvania believes in opening the boundaries between all kinds of knowledge
and in the larger community.
must move about [the world] confidently and freely, he concluded. Remember
that the anchor of your being lies in human affection and human responsibility,
but remember also to keep swimming up into the air of the envisaged possibility.
And also, try to keep on finding new answers to the question that Franklin
said was the noblest in the world, the question which he himself framed,
and which asks: What good may I do in the world?
hour earlier, Heaney had stood at the reviewing stand across from Claes
Oldenburgs Split Button on Locust Walk. He was flanked by Dr. Judith
Rodin CW66, president of the University; Dr. Robert Barchi Gr72 M72
GM73, the provost; James Riepe W65 WG67, chair of the trustees; and
the five other honorands (see sidebar, page 15), one of whom was former
Philadelphia mayor Edward G. Rendell C65, now chair of the Democratic
National Committee. Heaney stood with his arms folded, smiling inscrutably,
from time to time applauding the seemingly endless stream of graduating
students in their color-coded gowns and decorated mortarboards, occasionally
shaking a proffered hand, once signing a book of his poems thrust upon
him by a student. As always, and despite the dreary weather, youth and
pageantry and high occasion made for a celebratory blend of spirits.
noting that the students at Penns 244th Commencement are either the
last class at the University of Pennsylvania to graduate in the 20th century
or the first to graduate in the new millennium, President Rodin singled
out one Dan Harrell, who arrived at Penn 10 years ago at the age of 46
to work as a custodian at the Palestra. Having already earned advanced
degrees in life, Rodin noted, he promptly enrolled in the College of
General Studies. Thus began a 10-year journey in which Dan remained a
custodian at the Palestra, but also became an assistant coach for the
Penn sprint football team, an enterprising student in the classroom and
a beloved member of the Penn community. After hailing Harrell as an authentic
Penn hero, she asked him to rise and acknowledge the cheers of the umbrella-sheltered
crowd, which he did.
concluded with a fable of a young man who told a wise man that he hoped
to help the poor as soon as the opportunity arrives, to which the wise
man replied: Opportunity never arrives. Its here.
the opportunity is here for each of you to do the amazing things you dream
of doing, said Rodin, adding: Strive each day to make bigger and better
imprints on humanity. The ground is opened before you. I know you will
till it well.
Next Gazetteer item | July/August
Contents | Gazette home
Copyright 2000 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 6/28/00
of Humane Letters, honoris causa. As a poet, author, and
educator, you have blessed the world with your elegant grace of
expression and warmth of spirit. Your work reveals a wealth of sound,
image, and metaphor, creating the lyrical beauty that defines your
style. Blending the personal, the political, and the tragic, you
have written some of the most mellifluous, luminous, and accessible
verse of this century.
G. Rendell C65
of Laws, honoris causa. Now chair of the Democratic National
Committee, as Philadelphias respected, accomplished, and innovative
Mayor from 1992 to 2000, you restored the citys sense of pride,
purpose, and optimism.
of Science, honoris causa. Awarded the National Medal of
Science in 1998, as well as NASAs Distinguished Public Service
Medal in 1992, the American Physical Societys Hans Bethe Prize,
and the American Astronomical Societys Henry Norris Russell Lectureship.
Internationally acclaimed for your work in astrophysics, particularly
your expertise on the elusive, subatomic particles called neutrinos,
you have broadened humanitys understanding of the cosmos and enhanced
our ability to begin seeing the dark matter that may comprise
as much as 90 percent of the material universe.
of Humane Letters, honoris causa. One of the most outstanding,
pioneering anthropologists of her generation, her books include
Purity and Danger and Natural Symbols. Your explorations
into the cognitive processes in cultures and societies have illuminated
the principles by which
people order their world.
of Laws, honoris causa. As one of the leading legal philosophers
of our time, you have explored and illuminated the connections between
legal theory and moral and political philosophy
of Music, honoris causa. You are hailed worldwide as the
most accomplished and creative jazz musician, artist, and composer
of your generation
In 1997, you became the first jazz musician
to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Blood on the Fields,
an epic oratorio on the subject of slavery. While your compositions,
recordings, and performances have moved and delighted audiences,
your dedication to teaching has made the beauty, excitement, and
history of jazz come alive for millions of young people.