Dartmouth College Graduates 1,900 Students
Writer and television producer Shonda Rhimes addresses graduates at the 2014 Dartmouth College commencement after receiving an honorary Doctor of Arts degree in Hanover, N.H., on June 8, 2014. Rhimes, who created the shows Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, graduated from Dartmouth in 1991. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Manuel Hernandez, left, takes a photo of his daughter, graduating senior Camila Celaida Hernandez, as she smiles during the opening procession of the Dartmouth College commencement in Hanover, N.H., on June 8, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
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Hanover — It was hot and festive and the spirit of free enterprise was in the air as 13,500 people crowded onto the Hanover Green Sunday morning for Dartmouth College commencement.
Featured speaker and honorary degree recipient Shonda Rhimes, the producer of TV dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, earned prolonged applause and a standing ovation with a speech that mixed candid remembrances of her graduation 23 years ago with tough-love guidance to 1,900 graduates.
With the caveat that her commencement memories were filtered through the haze of a “bad hangover” on that day in 1991, she recalled grieving at her impending departure from Hanover. Without post-graduation goals or plans, she said, “I literally laid down on the floor and cried while my mother packed up my dorm room.”
Rhimes, whose Hollywood production company is called Shondaland, said she dreamed of emulating Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison.
“My dream did not come true,” Rhimes said. “But I worked really hard, and ended up building an empire out of my imagination. So my dreams can suck it.”
Rhimes spoke of her dread of public speaking, of enduring “six months of terror” after she agreed to speak at commencement and of her disdain for commencement speakers who urge young people to follow their dreams.
“A lot of people dream, and while they are dreaming the really happy people and the really successful people … are busy doing,” she said. For those who did not grasp her point, she conjured up this frightful image: “Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives.”
While expressing her joy at having three successful TV shows to her credit and three daughters to raise, she warned of the flaws that are part of even such an imperial existence. “When you see me succeeding in one area of my life, I’m failing in another area of my life,” she said. “Anyone who tells you they’re doing it all perfectly is a liar.”
And Rhimes, recalling her own reluctance to leave Dartmouth, offered this stark warning to the graduates: “Tomorrow is going to be the worst day ever for you.”
So was graduate Elliot Sanborn expecting a dreadful Monday?
“I think not,” he said cheerfully. But that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for Rhimes’ speech. “I thought it was great, very frank and very honest,” Sanborn said. “If the (theme) is to be yourself, I think she showed us.”
Graduate Ellen Irwin was also unconcerned about Rhimes’ dire prediction, and described the speech as “fantastic.” Others appeared to agree, as the applause following Rhimes speech extended for nearly a minute, with most of the audience standing by the end.
Others had different messages to send on Sunday. A noticeable smattering of the 1,116 bachelor’s degree recipients affixed a strip of red tape to their mortarboards as a sign of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
“I thought it would be a good show of solidarity, just to see how many students are against sexual assault and how many students were against it being covered up,” said graduate Samantha Victor.
But a group of four graduates with orange paint on their mortarboards paused before taking a selfie to explain that they were not part of the sexual assault demonstration but part of the Cabin and Trail division of the Dartmouth Outing Club. Graduating members of the committee wear the orange mortarboards each year, a member said.
Commencement is typically a day of great promise, not just for graduates but for local merchants. On South Main Street at 8 a.m. Sunday, the line reached from the counter to the door in Starbucks and stretched out the door at Lou’s. In between, a sidewalk display at Traditionally Trendy enabled passersby to examine the inventory of sun hats without bothering with a door at all.
At the corner of South Main and East Wheelock streets, Hanover artist Doug Henry had set out a variety of prints and paintings of iconic Dartmouth scenes and buildings.
“This is my Super Bowl weekend,” he said hopefully.
Rumors circulated that some Dartmouth underclassmen had succumbed to the entrepreneurial bug by taking for-pay assignments to get up early and save seats for friends and family of graduating students.
“You should have seen it when they let everyone go in,” said Lakin Roland, a member of the class of 2016. “People were sprinting to the front.”
Roland, who was lounging comfortably in a green Dartmouth sweatshirt and gray sweatpants before changing into a dress, acknowledged that she had come to save seats, but said it was not for money but as a favor to a teammate on the women’s basketball team. Asked whether some students were selling such services, she paused, then said “possibly.”
Justin Anderson, a Dartmouth spokesman, said he had no comment on the matter.
After a cool spring in the Upper Valley, the warm sun and four-hour-long commencement took a toll on some attendees. The weather was “the hottest I can remember” of the 13 commencements he had worked at, said Gene Tibbits, a Dartmouth employee standing next to a college pickup truck with two-dozen used and empty five-gallon water canisters in the back.
At around 11:45 a.m., about a dozen people were in line for water at a dispenser near a first-aid tent on the western side of the Green. About a half-dozen people had sought relief from one of the dozen Hanover firefighters at the event, but none had required transport to a hospital, said Fire Chief Martin McMillan. “We’re under control,” he said. “Everything’s good.”
Besides, said Dartmouth media relations director Diana Lawrence, “It’s better than being wet and rainy.”
The commencement was not without gravitas. Nancy Vogele, the college’s director of religious and spiritual life, welcomed attendees to “a wonderful and sacred moment” and reminded them they were on land where Abenaki Indians had once lived.
President Phil Hanlon hailed the graduates as “a fellowship of leaders standing many rows deep” and urged them to address the world’s problems as they “emerged from the long and comforting shadows of Baker tower into the world beyond these woods.”
But Rhimes had, if not the last, the most succinct words for the graduates. “We beer-ponged our asses off,” she said. “Now it’s time to pay it forward.”
Rick Jurgens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3229.
UPPER VALLEY GRADUATES
Here are the Dartmouth College graduates from the Upper Valley, as provided by the school: Evelyn Macie Flint, Norwich; Herve Patrick Kouna Nga Metsam, Hanover; Emmaline Marguerite Berg, Hanover; Marissa Lee Allen, Hanover; Saaid Haseeb Arshad, Hanover; Gediminas Bertasius, Hanover; Scott Lawrence Brookes, Hanover; Nicolas Burford, Hanover; Yeunun Choo, Hanover; Joshua David Cyphers, Grantham; Samuel Allen Farnham, Etna; Peter Cassidy Horak, Norwich; Ellen Theresa Irwin, Hanover; Sucharita L Y Jayanti, Hanover; Ma’Ko’Quah Jones, West Lebanon; Travis McLane Kuster, Hanover; Mui Ling Lam, Hanover; Matthew William Long, Hanover; Nicholas Edward Lovejoy, Orford; Karima Ma, Hanover; Zhenwei Mei, Hanover; Adwiteeya Misra, Hanover; Sarah Rose Pasternak, Hanover; Tyler Harrison Ray, Hanover; Erik A Skarin, Sunapee; Andrew David Spalding, Norwich; Amanda Marie Spoto, Hanover; Cooper Sullavan Thomas, Hanover; Danielle Genee Unterschutz, Hanover; Lucille Mayme Watkins, Lebanon; Holli Dobbins Weed, Lebanon; Thomas Shawn Wilson, Hanover; Kelly Anne Wood, Etna; Lukas Emmanuel Zirngibl, Hanover.