Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004

Purple reign in the park, as class of ’04 graduates

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Washington Sq. Park was a sea of purple last Thursday as more than 15,000 members of New York University’s class of 2004 — including 6,000 undergraduate seniors — received their sheepskins. Filling the park’s central plaza at the university’s 172nd commencement, they were joined under a broiling sun by 13,000 guests, faculty and staff.

Commencement speaker Richard Parsons (opposite page, top right), chairperson and C.E.O. of Time Warner, urged the students to do what they love and give back to society.

“If you want fulfillment as well as employment,” Parsons said, “do something you’re passionate about. When you love what you do, work becomes something to be enjoyed, not to be endured. Keep looking for your passion, if you haven’t found it.

“If you want to be remembered for other than the size of your income or your living space,” he added, “seek to do some good other than your own.”

In his parting words, Parsons, one of the country’s top black executives, exhorted, “Give ’em hell.”

In his remarks, John Sexton, university president, noted N.Y.U. reflects the diversity of New York, which he termed the world’s first truly “glocal” city — “global and local simultaneous.” Referring to the collection of flags from 160 nations flanking and festooning the stage, he said the graduates included at least one student from each country.

On a serious note, he stressed the importance of preserving the research university as a “sacred space.”

“We are told to forego stem-cell research or institute ideological quotas within our faculty,” he said. “In general, in society, we see a devaluation of the quest for new knowledge and research in the face of immediate gratification.”

One student from each undergraduate or graduate school took turns accepting their degrees on behalf of their cheering classmates. Stern Business School students whacked together Thunder Stix, Gallatin School of Individualized Study students jiggled yellow Styrofoam curlicues and Steinhardt School of Education students waved pennants.

The traditional silver Tiffany torch was passed from the most senior faculty member, Roy Sparrow, of the Wagner School, to the youngest undergraduate degree candidate, Olga Bashkatova, of Stern School.

The park’s fountain then shot into the air and more than a few students plunged in in their gowns to cool off and celebrate.

“It’s very cold,” said a dripping-wet Juli Esqueda, 23, a Steinhardt graduate hoping to get a job as a counselor in a college. “I said, what the hell. You only get to do this once without being arrested.”

With the renovated Washington Sq. Arch as a backdrop, Dorothy Telson watched as her son, Joshua, a film student, graduate from Tisch School of the Arts. An artist from Woodstock, she attended Cooper Union.

“I met my husband under that arch 24 years ago, as a tourist,” the German native recalled. “It’s like a path; now my son is graduating. It would make a very corny book or movie, but it’s true.”


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