Current Issue

July 7, 2010

Vol. 110, No. 16

Commencement 2010

Commencement 2010

20 things we love about it

By Brett Tomlinson; Photographs by Ricardo Barros
Published in the July 7, 2010, issue


 Standing, at center, as their degrees are awarded are, from left: Tina Zhen ’10, James Bryant ’10, Joseph Sengoba ’10, Josh Lavine ’10, David Clark ’10, and Alice Cassin ’10.
Standing, at center, as their degrees are awarded are, from left: Tina Zhen ’10, James Bryant ’10, Joseph Sengoba ’10, Josh Lavine ’10, David Clark ’10, and Alice Cassin ’10.

THE TICKET RUSH   Requests for extra tickets are not uncommon, but this year, President Tilghman said, the ­volume seemed to spike. The reason? First lady Michelle Obama ’85 was rumored to be speaking. “I guess I need to begin by apologizing to all of those disappointed folks for the obvious fact that I am not Michelle Obama,” Tilghman said at Commence­ment. “I understand that those extra tickets were being sold this morning on eBay for the price of postage.”

SHADE   The leafy canopy in front of Nassau Hall keeps Commence­ment audiences cool and helps with acoustics. With years of practice, the University’s facilities team has learned to minimize obstructed views and ­safely mount columns of stage lights on tree trunks.

HONORARY DEGREES   Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received the Commencement ceremony’s lone standing ovation, when she was ­awarded an honorary doctor of laws. Honorary degrees this year also went to historian Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard; Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade, a cancer researcher and clinician; Albie Sachs, the chief architect of South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution; and Edward Taylor, an emeritus professor of organic chemistry at Princeton who developed the anti-cancer drug Alimta.

“Having my underclassman friends here to cheer me on — it’s inspired me to come back and cheer them on next year.” — chemistry major Antonio Polanco ’10

FLEXIBILITY   Princeton’s Commencement has been held 263 times, but the program is not written in stone. With a chance of thunderstorms on the horizon, officials reordered the ceremony to award degrees first this year — a decision that drew cheers from the graduates. The rain held off, providing plenty of time for the full program of speeches and awards.  

FRIENDLY JABS   At Class Day, Tilghman poked fun at undergrad uates’ affinity for the online game Robot Unicorn Attack. “Really? Rainbows shooting out of unicorns? Really?” Tilghman asked. “And you have the nerve to blame Dean Malkiel for your grades.”



BUTTONS   Yes, they’re still cool. This one shows Class Day ­speaker Charles Gibson ’65.

BEING TOGETHER   After Opening Exercises, it’s a rarity for an entire Princeton class to spend an hour or two together. But for three straight days in May and June — at Baccalaureate, Step Sing, Class Day, and Commence­ment — the ­seniors ­convene en masse.  

HONORARY CLASSMATES   Officers from the Class of 2010 presented beer jackets
to administrators and staff members who span the Univer­sity’s pay grades: Vice Presi­dent for Campus Life Janet Dickerson, who was retiring; Jim Consolloy, the recently retired manager of grounds; custodian Mark Oresic; Devon Wessman-Smerdon ’05, program coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students; and Com­munity House director Marjorie Young.

LAUGHING AT LATIN   When instructed to “hic ridete” (laugh here) in the Latin salutatory oration, the graduates comply with gusto in one of Commence­ment’s most charming traditions.

“Having my family here and introducing them to all my Princeton people is the greatest part. The department reception, in terms of events, was probably my favorite.” — religion major Jane McClintock ’10

ATTENTION TO DETAIL   President Tilgh­man’s Commencement gown has 19 bands of gold on its sleeves, symbolizing Princeton’s 19 presidents.

DOUBLE DUTY   In addition to delivering the keynote address on Class Day, outgoing trustee and former news anchor Charles Gibson ’65 fulfilled his duties as University orator, delivering the citations for this year’s honorary-degree recipients with enviable gravitas.

IN THE NATION’S SERVICE   Two graduates — Samuel Gulland ’10, second from left, and Peter Yorck ’10, second from right — and three ROTC colleagues from The College of New Jersey drew enthusiastic applause when they received commissions as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army at a June 1 ceremony in Nassau Hall’s Faculty Room.

HOODS   The Commencement program provides a primer on academic dress, including a brief list of which colors are assigned to each discipline, but the significance of the doctoral hood goes well beyond custom. It represents exceptional knowledge in one’s chosen field — and five years (or more) of tireless work. 

HOMEMADE SIGNS and mortarboard decor.



“My favorite was definitely the ­P-rade, seeing all the Old Guard members, especially the Class of 1925 guy, Malcolm [Warnock]. That huge family feeling was ­really great.” — ecology and evolutionary ­biology major Joel Peterson ’10  

THE MACE   Given by the town of Princeton in 1956, in recognition of Nassau Hall’s 200th birthday, the ceremonial mace holds a place of honor in the academic procession. English professor Jeff Nunokawa is the mace bearer.

THESIS JOKES   Just as nothing binds the senior class like the shared experience of the thesis, no topic is lampooned more consistently in student speeches. This year’s Latin salutatory oration, for instance, included a line about being “includeremur in subterranei cubiculis” (locked in subterranean carrels) and surviving on Twizzlers, NoDoz, and the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko — three items that apparently do not have Latin equivalents.

GONFALONS   These sizable banners, carrying the logos of Princeton’s residential colleges, lead the graduates’ procession. After Commencement, seniors return to their residential colleges to receive their diplomas, ending their Princeton careers where they began.

10 memorable quotes: words of wisdom



“Cleverness is a gift. Kindness is a choice. ... Gifts are easy — they’re given, after all. Choices can be hard.”

— Baccalaureate speaker JEFF BEZOS ’86, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Bezos told the story of his choice to leave finance and pursue his dot-com dream, creating what has become America’s largest online retailer.

“Your Princeton education is intended to help you develop the character and habits of mind [for finding common ground]. On our campus, you have been exposed to a rich smorgasbord of ideas, perspectives, and cultures, both inside and outside the classroom. Our goal was not to turn you into walking encyclopedias, although you may have felt that way during general and comprehensive exams. Rather, you were asked to acquire learning so that you would have the intellectual foundation to engage with the great ideas and pressing issues of the day.”

PRESIDENT TILGHMAN, in her Commence­ment address. Tilghman urged graduates to stand up for their beliefs and explore ideas that may contradict their own points of view.

“Because you attended this institution, you are going to have oppor­tunities in life to matter. And above all, I want for all of you to matter. That doesn’t mean people have to know who you are. ... That, in the long run, is not what matters. It’s being a force in your community, it’s being a great teacher or coach, it’s ministering to patients or to a congregation, it’s being a great parent, it’s having a positive effect on others, and it’s standing for something.”

CHARLES GIBSON ’65, former ABC News anchorman and this year’s Class Day speaker.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously, but do take your work seriously. ... The tasks in which we’re engaged at present are deadly serious, and I know you’ll be equally serious about developing the competence your soldiers deserve.”  

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS *85 *87, to recent graduates — and a standing-room-only crowd of friends and family — at the Tiger Battalion ROTC commissioning ­ceremony in Nassau Hall June 1.

“The world will listen to your speech, evaluate your attire, notice your relationships, and constantly assess what is of Princeton, and what is of your ethnicity. Sometimes they will be entirely incorrect, and sometimes they will be uncomfortably accurate.”  

IMANI PERRY, professor of African-American studies, at the Pan-African graduation ceremony May 30 in Richardson Auditorium.

“We have congregated at an exceptionally high-powered institution, and instead of eating each other alive like laser-beam-headed mackerel, we have allowed each other to risk, stumble, break, pick ourselves up, and not be perfect. I look out at you, and I see people who were gentle enough to make a place for my failures when I could not. Every one of us has done that for a friend here.”

REBECCA FORESMAN ’10, in her Class Day address. Foresman, a ­theater-certificate student who studied clowning in France last summer, donned a red nose and encouraged her peers to “carpe ­ridiculum.”

“What makes a group of people a family isn’t how traditional they are — a mom, dad, 2.6 children — it’s what’s in their hearts. It’s not hard to look around today and find someone near you that you love like a brother or sister. Some of us also have sex with each other. For the most part, though, it’s a brother-sister thing.”

ZACH ZIMMERMAN ’10 on Class Day. Zimmerman quoted Sister Sledge’s pop hit “We Are Family” at the start of his speech and concluded by telling classmates that he was looking forward to “family reunions.”

“Do not become a professional minority. Do not allow ethnic definitions to diminish your stature as Ameri­cans. Reach beyond boundaries that foster divisiveness by asserting the multidimensional quality of who you are: You are very, very special and very large in spirit.”

PATRICIA FERNANDEZ-KELLY, senior ­lecturer in sociology, at the Latino ­graduation ceremony outside Frist Campus Center May 30. 

“We all have varying degrees of certainty about what we want to do with our lives. But the neat thing, I think, is that a lot of us who think we know what we want are so very wrong. So when the opportunity arises to be a snowboarding instructor in Brecken­ridge, or a translator for the Ukrainian government, or a space elevator operator (if the MAEs do their jobs), let the fact that you never saw it coming be an attraction, not a deterrent.”

— Valedictorian DAVID KARP ’10, who encouraged classmates to follow nontraditional paths, noting that “our time here has prepared us to handle far more than just academic pursuits.”

“Although steeped in customs, we’re not bound by them. Rather we build on them. For example, I doubt the original beer jacket of 1912 was designed to hold 24 Coors Lights. And let us remember that our class government legalized a tradition that’s as old as Princeton itself: coed cohabitation. Future ­classes, you’re welcome.”

— Salutatorian MARGUERITE COLSON ’10, translated from the Latin. Colson’s irreverent remarks urged graduates to be faithful to traditions but to “make them new” and “make them you.”

Commencement 2010 by the numbers

Undergraduate degrees conferred on the Class of 2010: 1,166

Among the graduates, 960 students received a bachelor of arts, while 206 received a bachelor of science in engineering. The University awarded honors to 497 students, 116 of whom received high honors.  

Adam Zawadowski *10
Adam Zawadowski *10

Graduate degrees: 804, including 302 Ph.D.s

This year marked the first time in University history that Princeton awarded more than 800 graduate degrees. (The previous high, 753, was set last year.) Among master’s recipients, the majority earned a master of arts; other popular degrees included master in public affairs (69), master in finance (30), and master of ­architecture (26).

Most popular ­undergraduate majors:

Politics 101

Economics 95

History 79

Woodrow Wilson School 76

English 58


Most popular ­undergraduate certificates:

Finance 63

Environmental studies 45

Applications of computing 42

Engineering and management systems 37

African-American studies 31

Number of words in President Tilghman’s Commencement
address: 2,072

(Words in President Woodrow Wilson 1879’s 1909 address on “The Spirit of Learning,” from which Tilghman ­quoted this year: 5,953)


For the festivities:

The facilities department set up:  

15,000 chairs; 1,700 round tables; 183,000 square feet of tenting;   520 trash cans

Dining Services served: 15,801 meals


Among seniors polled by   the Nassau Herald:  

• ‑28% said four years at Princeton made them more liberal  

• ‑10% said four years at Princeton made them more conservative  

• ‑81% believe their grades were affected by grade deflation  

• ‑66% swam in the Woodrow Wilson School fountain  

• ‑62% plan to live on the East Coast after ­graduation  

• ‑74% never walked out of FitzRandolph Gate before graduation  

• ‑8% plan to work in investment banking after ­graduation  

• 7% plan to work in nonprofits  

• 97% plan to return to Reunions   

Faces in the crowd

 From left, Anastasia Oldham ’10, Elizabeth Kohansedgh ’10, and Chanel Carmona ’10
From left, Anastasia Oldham ’10, Elizabeth Kohansedgh ’10, and Chanel Carmona ’10
 From left, Benjamin Woodman *10, Arian Sharifi *10, Narong Silpathamtada *10, and Aytug Goksu *10
From left, Benjamin Woodman *10, Arian Sharifi *10, Narong Silpathamtada *10, and Aytug Goksu *10
From left, Asli Bali *10, Intisar Rabb *10, and Benjamin Nabet *10
From left, Asli Bali *10, Intisar Rabb *10, and Benjamin Nabet *10
Anita Obodo ’10, left, and Jasmine Ellis ’10
Anita Obodo ’10, left, and Jasmine Ellis ’10
From left, Ben White ’10, Adam Harris ’10, and Collin Plummer ’10
From left, Ben White ’10, Adam Harris ’10, and Collin Plummer ’10
Andrea Wong ’10
Andrea Wong ’10
Zackory Burns ’10, left, and Wesley Loo ’10
Zackory Burns ’10, left, and Wesley Loo ’10

Senior awards

JOEL ALICEA won the Harold Willis Dodds *14 Prize for the senior who best has embodied Dodds’ qualities of scholarship and service.

JOSH GREHAN received the Allen Macy Dulles ’51 Award, given to a senior whose actions fulfill Princeton’s motto of service.

JESSICA GAMBOA earned the Frederick Douglass Award for her contributions to a deeper understanding of the experiences of racial minorities.

ADITYA PANDA won the W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize, awarded by the class to the senior who has done the most for the class.  

CONNOR DIEMAND-YAUMAN earned the Class of 1901 Medal, awarded by the class to the senior who has done the most for Princeton.

JENNI NEWBURY received the Priscilla Glickman ’92 Memorial Prize, honoring independence and imagination in community service.

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CURRENT ISSUE: July 7, 2010
Web Bonus Links
Slide show: Commencement 2010
Memorable images from Princeton's 264th Commencement Exercises.
Video: Senior Step Sing
The Class of 2010 serenades family and friends from the steps of Blair Hall.
Class Day's lighter side
Becca Foresman '10 and Zach Zimmerman '10's themes: your inner clown and nontraditional family.