Volume 74, Number 54 | May 18 - 24 , 2005

Villager photos by Talisman Brolin

At graduation, Sexton salutes ‘the class that overcame 9/11’

In what could be New York University’s last commencement in Washington Sq. Park before the park’s planned refurbishment, 19,000 graduates, faculty members, family members and guests packed the park last Thursday, as 12,000 degrees were conferred at the university’s 173rd graduation.

The park’s central sunken plaza was a sea of purple gowns as the graduates were seated together by their schools. Each school’s students had their own type of wand or stick to wave. The Stern Business School whacked their loud Thunder Stix together; the Steinhart School of Education fluttered pennants; Tisch School of the Arts students shook batons topped with silver tassles — for star power, no doubt; Gallatin School of Individualized Studies students bobbed quirky yellow squiggle sticks.

School of Medicine students, above, didn’t wave any objects, but they had to repeat the Hippocratic Oath after their dean, which caused some laughter due to the lengthy sentences that were hard to remember.

John Sexton, N.Y.U.’s president, noted that the class of 2005 had just matriculated when 9/11 happened. He recalled the candlelight vigils by the park’s fountain after the attack and how a spirit of determination took hold and helped the city and the university pull through those dark days.

“The class that overcame 9/11 — that distinction will characterize you always and be a mark of distinction of your time here,” he said.

The students’ experience was intimately tied to the city, he said, noting, “As you left our campus, you did not step on grass — you touched sidewalk.”

Sexton added they share the spirit of the artists who climbed to the Arch’s rooftop around the turn of the last century, where, after generously imbibing wine, they read a declaration of independence and seceded from the rest of the nation.

“You are citizens of the state that was created that night,” he said.

Among the honorary degree recipients was artist Louise Bourgeois of Chelsea, who Sexton noted, could not attend because of health reasons. Bourgeois’s son Alain accepted on her behalf.

In a brief speech, Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University’s president, who also received an honorary degree, urged the graduating students to “aim high and be bold.”

The deans of N.Y.U.’s 13 schools then conferred the degrees, with one student from each school accepting a degree on behalf of the rest.

The deans plugged their schools and said a few words before bestowing the degrees. One of the Stern deans noted the school’s philosophy is that “business is the world’s dominant force for social change.” A College of Dentistry dean pointed out it was the 60th anniversary of the fluoridation of public water supplies.

The traditional Tiffany torch was passed from a senior faculty member to the youngest graduating student, the cue for the park’s fountain to shoot a stream of water into the air and for the celebrations to begin. Mortar boards flew upwards and students jumped into the fountain to splash around and hug.

Jason Diminich, 21, an educational theater major in the Steinhart School, said the commencement represented a fleeting sense of togetherness on an otherwise decentralized campus.

“It was actually one of the few moments of school pride and spirit I felt,” he reflected. He lived in N.Y.U.’s Water St. dorm Downtown and commuted to class every day by subway.

“At first, as a freshman, it was a little off-putting,” he said, “but you get used to it.”

Asked if Stern students made a point of making the most noise with their inflatable Thunder Stix, Adam Gold, said, “Absolutely. Class pride. We work hard — play harder.” His father, Sam Gold, an alumnus, said he was “very proud.”

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