A new dean of admission and financial aid
Appleton becomes a dorm
Appleton of yore
Prof. John Petropulos
Kessler '73 and Fernandez '86 join Board of Trustees
A summa painting
Tom Parker, director of admission at Williams College, in July became dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst. As the college's head of admission Parker succeeds Jane E. Reynolds, who left in January 1998 after nine years at Amherst to become an associate dean at the Yale University School of Medicine. Until Parker's arrival, Katharine L. Fretwell '81, director of admission, and Joe Paul Case, director of financial aid, served as interim deans of admission and of admission and financial aid, respectively.
Parker, 52, has a long and distinguished record at Williams, where he joined the admission staff 20 years ago and served for the last eight years as director. Besides carrying out the normal interviewing, travel and selection duties of an admission officer, he developed and administered the office's 1,200-member alumni network, oversaw the student search program, and helped to develop software and publications programs.
President Gerety said he is "particularly pleased that Tom brings to this appointment a great deal of experience with research, as well as a sense of how to organize the work of his office to meet the priorities of the campus community."
Parker majored in American civilization at Williams, where his extracurricular activities included varsity basketball and baseball. He graduated from Williams in 1969 and then taught English at Marshfield High School in Marshfield, Mass. After earning an M.A.T. degree from Harvard in 1973, he taught at Detroit Country Day School in Birmingham, Mich., then returned to Williams in 1979.
The Amherst search committee was chaired by Walter E. Nicholson, the college's Ward H. Patton Professor of Economics, and was assisted by an executive search firm, Lansing Associates of Wellesley, Mass.
Nicholson said the "most appealing thing about Tom Parker is that he's had a huge amount of experience at a school very much like Amherst. He'll face many of the key issues he's already faced at Williams." These, Nicholson said, include "how to attract the best academic students," "how to respond to the changing financial aid patterns that are occurring now even at our 'need-blind' schools," and the tracking of student choices and performance. He said Parker's particular strengths include skills in doing quantitative analysis "for all of these issues."
Nicholson, himself a Williams graduate, said he saw no problem in Parker's coming from Amherst's traditional rival.
"The key issue is not that you represent Amherst, Williams, or whatever," he said, "but that you represent this special, intimate kind of education."
Parker said "Amherst has a talented admission and financial aid staff, whose work I've admired for many years. I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to work with them."
Appleton Hall, the venerable, 144-year-old brick building that crowns College Hill at its southern end, was converted this summer to use as a dormitory for first-year students. The $2.1-million remodeling project was done to relieve overcrowding in nearby North and South dormitorieswhere student "triples" will now be assigned as doubles. Officials at the college say that cramped housing for first-year students has been one of Amherst's least attractive features in admission recruiting.
The new dormitory offers housing for 54 students, mostly in doubles. While contractors gutted the three-and-a-half-story interior to reinforce the structure and provide start-up space for the new rooms, bathroom facilities, lounge, laundry room, and elevator, they preserved the dignified exterior of the old landmark building with its arched third-story windows, quoins, and stately end gables. Some of the third-floor rooms should be especially popular, with deep windowsills and distant views of the Holyoke Range.
The architectural firm for the project was Juster Pope Frazier of Shelburne Falls, Mass., and the contractor was Marois Construction of South Hadley. In the early planning stages, the architect and college officials met with students and adopted some of their suggestions about lighting, room layout, and other issues.
Appleton became available for new use a year ago when the Psychology Department moved out of the building to renovated space in the Merrill Science Center.
The newest use of Appleton is only the latest phase in its varied career. In his book Amherst: A Guide to its Architecture, Paul Norton wrote: "First called Appleton Cabinet, the building was erected [in 1855] primarily for the college's zoological collection, much enhanced by President Edward Hitchcock's gift of his personal collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints. Building money came from the estate of Samuel Appleton, Boston importer, manufacturer, and philanthropist. . . . In 1925 McKim, Mead and White's renovation converted the interior into lecture halls, classrooms, and offices."
Back to Top
The new dormitory for first-year students, Appleton Hall, was once a natural science museum, a kind of Noah's Ark filled with exotic collections of mammals, birds, reptiles, and dinosaur tracks. The aura of Appleton in those days is described in a little booklet, The Visitor's Guide to the Public Rooms and Cabinets of Amherst College, published in 1862. The Ichnological Cabinet on the first floor contained the vast collection of dinosaur footprints assembled by President Edward Hitchcock, who taught science and theology at Amherst from 1825 to 1864. Hitchcock gathered the fossilized tracks in the Connecticut River valley.
"Whenever I could," he wrote, "I have myself gone to the localities and dug out the specimens. When not too large, I have transported them on my own business wagon. Again and again have I entered Amherst upon such a load, generally, however, preferring not to arrive till evening, because, especially of late, such manual labor is regarded by many as not comporting with the dignity of a Professor."
Dinosaurs were unknown at the time, and Hitchcock thought his fossils were the tracks of giant birds. The Visitor's Guide speculates that the smallest of the birds must have been "as large as a turkey, and the largest from twelve to fifteen feet high, two or three times as large as an ostrich! Would that we only had them in our cabinet!"
Upstairs was the Adams Zoological Cabinet, displaying items first collected by Hitchcock's colleague, Charles Baker Adams, professor of zoology. Describing one shelf of specimens, the guidebook says it held "the skulls of many small animals; the teeth of many more, such as the whale, camel, elephant, and hippopotamus; the tail of an elephant, the skin of a rhinoceros; feet of a bear; skulls of monkeys; daguerreotype of the Aztec children, etc. Upon the upper shelves of this and the next case will be seen models of the heads of men distinguished for good or bad qualities, by the side of the heads of various wild and domesticated animals. These specimens were designed to illustrate phrenology."
The footprints and many other collections in Appleton were transferred, long ago, across the quadrangle to the college's Pratt Museum of Natural History.
Back to Top
John A. Petropulos, a scholar of early modern and modern Balkan and Middle Eastern history, died on May 3 in his office at the college. Petropulos, the college's E. Dwight Salmon Professor of History and Asian Languages and Civilizations, had been a member of Amherst's faculty for 41 years. He was 69.
He joined the college's history department in 1958 and served the college in many capacities, including a term as dean of new students from 1982 to 1985. He was chairman of his department from 1989 to 1991, and was a member of the Committee of Six, the faculty governance committee, for three terms.
One of the world's leading scholars on the history of modern Greece, Petropulos is best-known for his book Politics and Statecraft in the Kingdom of Greece, 1833-1843, published by Princeton University Press in 1968. The book was translated into Greek, and remains an authoritative reference book on modern Greece. Petropulos was co-editor of Hellenism and the First Greek War of Liberation (1821-1830): Continuity and Change, published by the Institute of Balkan Studies in 1976.
He was a prominent member of several professional organizations.
In its formative years, he served the Modern Greek Studies Association as president, acting president, and vice president, and as a member of the executive committee, numerous editorial boards, committees, and symposia.
Petropulos was active as well in the American Historical Association, chairing panels on refugees, resistance movements, and fascism in modern Europe. For over a decade he prepared annual encyclopedia articles on Greece and Lebanon for Collier's Year Book. As Resident Visiting Scholar at McGill University in November 1977 he delivered three lectures on Modern Greece in World-Historical Perspective.
Petropulos was born in Lewiston, Maine, December 19, 1929, the son of Greek immigrants Anthony John and Anastasia Kargas Petropulos. Valedictorian of Lewiston High School, he went to Yale College, where he studied history on full scholarship, graduating in 1951 Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1963.
An Amherst colleague, Prof. Rebecca H. Sinos of the classics department, said that as a scholar Petropulos was extraordinarily versatile. "He mastered all the languages he needed to know in order to teach the history of the Middle East as well as the Balkans," she said. "And he often taught the kind of survey course that is very difficult to teach."
At the time of his death, Petropulos, who was on phased retirement and suffered from emphysema, was teaching a new course he had prepared on the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79, which he saw as a major turning point in 20th-century revolutions. In his core two-semester course on the Middle East from 600 to 1300 A.D., Petropulos emphasized the dynamism of Islam during the period and the impact of Persians and Turks on the changing social order of the Middle East.
Members of the college community remember Petropulos as a generous colleague and friend. Sinos said he also was "a beacon for the Greek community on campus. Every student who knew him will miss him like a father."
Lisa A. Raskin, acting president at the time of his death, said "John was beloved by scores of us who depended on his counsel and his gentle wisdom for so many years. He kept up remarkable levels of professional and scholarly work along with extraordinary devotion to his teaching."
In recent years, Petropulos became a passionate gardener. He was also an elegant practitioner of traditional Greek dancing. He was an active member of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Holyoke, Mass. A devoted father and husband, Petropulos leaves his wife Electra Yankopoulos Petropulos and their children Ansia, Stephanie, and Anthony. Anthony is a 1991 graduate of Amherst. He also leaves a sister, Roula Kottaridis, of Dover, N.H.
The family has asked that memorial gifts be made to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, 410 Main Street, Holyoke, Mass. 01040. The funeral was held at the church on May 7.
The alumni last spring elected David A. Kessler '73, dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, to the Alumni Trustee seat that became open with the end of the six-year term of Jide Zeitlin '85. The Trustees in turn have reappointed Zeitlin to the Board as a Term Trustee.
Also, the Board has chosen Nelson Fernandez '86, managing director of client services for Burson-Marsteller, the New York City management firm, to serve as a Term Trustee. Zeitlin and Fernandez fill vacancies left by Thai-Hi T. Lee '80 and K. Frank Austen '50, whose terms ended this year.
Kessler, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the Bush and Clinton administrations, became dean at Yale in 1997. In Trustee balloting last May he outpolled two other candidatesSherri Wasserman Goodman '81, who is U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, and Peter J. Rubinstein '64, who is senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City.
Responding to the ballot question, "What about your life and experiences is particularly germane to your serving on the Board of Trustees?", Kessler wrote:
"What are the attributes that I would hope to be able to bring as a trustee? A passion about Amherst is one. A trustee should have the ability and desire to care about all constituencies of the College, and to listen to their many issues. And one should not be afraid to ask hard questions, when necessary, to assure the continued greatness of the College. How does the College continue to assure that its education can be made available to all students regardless of their financial circumstances? What does it take to support and nurture the best faculty committed to teaching and to scholarship? Beginning with my Amherst education, continuing through my years in medicine, academia, and the Food and Drug Administration, I have gained respect for when to learn and when to teach, when to agree and when to challenge."
Kessler earned a J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1978 and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1979. He is the recipient of many awards for his reform activities as head of the Food and Drug Administration, including the Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Government Service, and an Outstanding Service to the Public Health Award given by the National Organization for Rare Diseases. Kessler received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Amherst in 1992.
Nelson Fernandez majored in English at Amherst and graduated summa cum laude. He holds a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. At Burson-Marsteller he provides counsel on public affairs issues for national and international consumer-product and pharmaceutical companies. His experience includes crisis preparedness, issues management, and constituency relations. He also has implemented bilingual training programs in Latin America, working closely with the company's offices in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil.
Before joining Burson-Marsteller, Fernandez was an associate at the Fund for the City of New York, a foundation designed to counsel city government agencies and nonprofit organizations. He has also worked with the Ford Foundation, the General Accounting Office in Washington, and Funders Concerned About AIDS, where he was co-author of a document on foundation resources deployed to meet the needs of HIV-positive individuals in developing countries.
Back to Top
At this year's Commencement, President Gerety recognized Professor White with this tribute on the occasion of his retirement.
Donald O. White
Professor of German
You came to Amherst 42 years ago as an instructor--a promising young scholar, just beginning your doctoral dissertation on modern German poetry for Yale University. The third and youngest member of our distinguished German Department, you were fondly known by many of your students as "the boy professor."
But beneath the deceptively youthful exterior lies a powerful, probing intelligence. At Amherst, and in venerable German seats of learning, you have engaged passionately and creatively with multiple facets of German and European studies. As teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend, you wear your erudition lightly. Yet you have, with great kindness and generosity of spirit, helped us to delve more deeply into the European literature, music, art, architecture, politics, and aesthetics you know so thoroughly.
Chairman of the German Department during much of your career, you will long be remembered for ushering in curricular innovation and interdisciplinary breadth. You were a co-founder of our very successful European Studies Program and, through the Copeland Colloquium, you took a leadership role in furthering our understanding of art and politics in contemporary Europe.
In the classroom, you are equally at home teaching a poem by Hölderlin or Rilke; relating the impact of Luther's Reformation; discussing Weimar modernism and the Bauhaus; and analyzing Arnold Schönberg's twelve-tone music as it influenced the narrative art of your beloved Thomas Mann. For, whenever possible, as
a teacher and scholar, you have explored the interrelationships of the artsand most especially the kinship between your two great loves, poetry and music.
An accomplished, enthusiastic, and self-taught musician, you are principal violist in the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, and a frequent guest of the Amherst College Orchestra and chamber groups. You delight in encouraging music in the young. We know you have lent a precious violin to a child who needed it, and you have even taught viola to an Amherst student&SHY;not, we should add, a German major&SHY;who is now a conductor. When abroad on your own scholarly quests and to teach elder Americans, you often pack your viola, the better to make music with chamber groups you meet in your travels.
Today we salute you, an explorer of intellectual frontiers, a crosser of borders, and an ambassador par excellence for the joys of learning.
Friends and former students of Don White may write to him in care of the German Department, Campus Box 2255, Amherst College, P.O. Box 5000, Amherst, MA 01002-5000.
Back to Top
An extraordinary painting by an unusual student has inspired a remarkable move on the part of Amherst's trustees.
On behalf of the college, a group of trustees has purchased Remorse, Despondence, and the Acceptance of an Early Death, a painting that Graydon Parrish '99 prepared as an independent study project. The oil painting--10 feet long and four feet high--earned Parrish summa honors and will be displayed on campus once an appropriate site is found.
An allegory about the AIDS epidemic, Parrish's painting depicts the corpse of a small child, robed in white, being borne down a river on a funerary barge. Three figures join the child on the barge; each is a personification of a stage of the grieving process. Another figure pulls the barge, which is embellished with dead doves, flowers and a red ribbon.
The painting is striking both in its realism and its use of symbolism. The five characters in the painting are modeled on real people--most of them from the Amherst community--and every element of the painting has a symbolic function. The flowers--white roses and anemone--have a religious connotation of death and resurrection; the doves, while signs of peace, are also signs of disease and plague.
Parrish explains that he wanted to work in a style in which figure painting is the highest form of art, and that he hoped the focus of his painting would be on the story the work tells, not the brushwork, color, or other technical elements of execution.
"It's a French academic idiom that's been overshadowed lately," Parrish says, "but I've found it to be a valuable medium."
William R. Mead Professor of Fine Arts Robert Sweeney, who worked with Parrish on his independent study project, says that Remorse, Despondence, and the Acceptance of an Early Death "transcends the notion of pastiche. Graydon's technique is very powerful and accomplished, but one of the painting's real accomplishments is that it achieves a level of emotion that's consistent with the subject matter," Sweeney notes. "Graydon is really playing off the French academic style, bringing the language forward and reinventing the technique."
Parrish began immersing himself in the French academic style at the New York Academy of Art. After graduating from the Academy in 1990, he apprenticed for several years with Academy professor Michael Aviano, and then he enrolled at Amherst in 1994 as a 24-year-old first-year student. Remorse, Despondence and the Acceptance of an Early Death was completed as an independent study project in his last two years at Amherst.
The inspiration for the painting was both intensely personal and firmly grounded in art history. Parrish began work on the painting early in 1997. "I'd had an AIDS test, as a lot of young people are counseled to do these days," he explains. "And the two-week wait [for the results of the test] was a sort of pilgrimage, as I imagined my life going in two very different directions." While dealing with a contemporary subject, Parrish was committed to creating a work that drew on the Classical tradition. "I wanted the painting to have a relationship with art history, to demonstrate how plagues have been represented in art in the past. The work incorporates many traditional images of plagues and disease, as well as the river of life."
Parrish says that preparing the painting as an independent study project allowed him great freedom to experiment with both subject and style. "I have done something sad, but also something that I hope people will find beautiful," he says. "It's a work that's both celebratory and austere."
And Parrish says that in painting Remorse, Despondence, and the Acceptance of an Early Death, he came to a better understanding of his own feelings about AIDS. In developing the work, "I spent a lot of time meditating, studying, reading poetry, thinking about what AIDS meant to me. I knew the painting couldn't answer everyone's questions about AIDS, but I wanted it to answer my own. And I came out of [the process] feeling quite alive, whereas I'd felt suffocated before. It focused me back on art and on my own love of art as a career. It helped me find my voice."
Now represented by the Hirshl and Adler Gallery in New York, Parrish plans to continue to live and paint in Amherst, where he has a studio downtown.
Back to Top
With this issue of the magazine, we begin a column that features a compilation of remarks from recent events at Amherst.
"I always believed that the value of a liberal arts education was that it had no practical value whatsoever. So I'm a little embarrassed at how things turned out."
Cullen Murphy '74
Managing Editor, The Atlantic Monthly and writer of "Prince Valiant"
Alumni Holiday Lecture, "An Amherst Education in the Funny Pages!"
May 27, 1999
"I graduated from Amherst with visions of telling stories like George Lucas or Steven Spielbergon the big screen. But even though I'm now working in this little space, I can't think of another medium that gives an artist the freedom to communicate with 20 million readers a day the way I do."
Bill Amend '84
Syndicated cartoonist and creator of "Foxtrot"
Alumni Holiday Lecture, "An Amherst Education in the Funny Pages!"
May 27, 1999
"[The Bakke decision] created an itty bitty opening [that allowed the consideration of race] in the college admission process. And colleges and universities began to drive a big Mack truck through that little opening and to make race the only factor in college admission. I grew up believing that, as John F. Kennedy said, race has no place in American life or law. And I cling tenaciously to the view that race has no place in American life or law."
University of California regent and supporter of California's
"Race Doesn't Matter"
March 9, 1999
"The history of socialism is haunted and vexed by the idea of revolution. Which is to say it is haunted and vexed by the idea of ceasing to be an idea."
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner
"The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures"
Creative Writing Center Spring Reading Series
March 1, 1999
"My academic scholarship feeds my poetry. I do a lot of [academic research] on race and sexuality, and when I get tired of writing the jargon, [poetry] is my reprieve."
E. Patrick Johnson, assistant professor of English, Amherst
"Does Your Mother Know? If Not, Ask Her!"
Creative Writing Center Spring Reading Series
February 15, 1999
"Dreams do not have walls, dreams do not have ceilings."
Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Service
February 7, 1999
The college awarded nine honorary degrees and a Medal for Eminent Service at the 178th Commencement last May 23. The citations are presented here and on the following pages.
James J. Barnes '54
Doctor of Humane Letters
The youngest of the three gifted Barnes boys, you came to Amherst from St. Paul, Minnesota. To no one's surprise, and despite a serious vision problem, you excelled at everything: scholarship, music, football, student government. Upon your graduation you were named First Citizen of the College. Your brilliant senior thesis, which earned a magna, examined four Victorian novels from a historian's point of viewa foretaste of the fresh, broad, intellectually vigorous approach you bring to the study of history.
After Amherst, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, you embarked upon a lifetime's passionate, fruitful engagement with English history and culture. During your second year, you lost your sight very suddenly. Undaunted by this tragedy, you completed your work at Oxford, earned a doctorate from Harvard University, and began your teaching career here at your alma mater. In 1962 you joined the history faculty at Wabash College, where you hold the Hadley Professorship in History.
Much of your scholarship--all of it written in felicitous prosehas centered on the history of ideas, most especially the evolution of the British and American book trade. You have written incisively about the great 19th-century romantic historians, about Nazism in England in the 1930s, Fascism, and wartime espionage. Among works in progress, prepared in collaboration with your wonderful wife and colleague Patience Plummer Barnes, is a study of Wabash students who served in the Civil War. Active in several historical associations in the United States and the United Kingdom, you are a chess and cross-country skiing competitor, an athlete and musician as well--a courageous, generous, highly productive First Citizen who has helped make the world "larger and better" than you received it.
Douglas J. Bennet
Doctor of Humane Letters
You preside over a great university which has been our friend and rival now for six generations. We are proud of that close relationship. This morning we're proud to celebrate your leadership at Wesleyan and the achievements that brought you there, four years ago, as fifteenth president.
For you it was a wonderful homecoming, a return to the college where you had studied and from which you had graduated, Phi Beta Kappa, 36 years earlier. You went on in the 1960s to earn a Ph.D. in history from Harvard. But talent and a taste for the here-and-now drew you into political life, where you served as a young assistant to such public figures as Chester Bowles, Abraham Ribicoff, and Hubert Humphrey. In the Carter administration you were the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations and then head of the Agency for International Development.
You gained most acclaim, though, during the 10 years you served as CEO and President of National Public Radio. Your vigorous leadership turned NPR away from near-bankruptcy to dramatic new levels of programming and financial independence. The number of member stations nearly doubled, while the listeners tripled.
Wesleyan was impressed by your management record then and in two years that followed when you returned to the State Department, serving as Assistant Secretary for International Organizational Affairs. So they called you home--back to your roots. Under your wise guidance the university has now adopted a master plan for academic and campus development that should guarantee and even strengthen Wesleyan's proud reputation for the future.
In that noble effort, at Amherst this morning, we cheer you on.
Doctor of Humane Letters
The simple story is told of how you came to be this country's pioneering children's television activist: One day over 30 years ago, at home with your four-year-old daughter in suburban Boston, you flicked on the television set and could scarcely believe what you saw: "wall-to-wall monster cartoons," you later said--programming sandwiched between product advertisements aimed at vulnerable young viewers. Dismayed, you invited a group of mothers to your living room to discuss how to improve programming for children. Thus was born Action for Children's Television, a powerful grassroots lobby which eventually persuaded reluctant television executives, the Federal Communications Commission, and Congress that our children deserve thoughtful, high-quality educational programming.
By 1990 you were a grandmother with more than two decades of strategic, dedicated activism behind you, when Congress passed the Children's Television Act. The landmark legislation you championed required television stations to air programming specifically designed to educate and inform kids. It also sharply limited the amount of commercial advertising that can be aired during their shows. When some broadcasters tried to wriggle out of the law, you nudged the FCC into requiring broadcasters to air at least three hours of educational fare each week.
You remain a vocal and committed activist for the rights of free speech as well. Today we salute a mother's vision, courage, and tenacity--and your unexampled role in helping to secure a learned and good future for our children.
William H. Cosby
Doctor of Humane Letters
Only yesterday, it seems, you burst upon the national scene, a young man from the Philadelphia projects with a rare comic genius to rival Chaplin's. In a succession of wonderfully inventive, Grammy Award-winning record albums, you introduced us to Cosbyan characters like Fat Albert and Old Weird Harold. You mesmerized us with rib-tickling stories about childhood and growing up. Meantime, in your award-winning television acting début, as Scotty Scott in the acclaimed television series I Spy, you inhabited a wholly new forthright vision of the African American man.
You followed these early successes with a dozen film roles; a doctorate in education from our neighbor, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; best-selling books on fatherhood, family life, tennis; and countless television projects. Your landmark Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, was the number-one television show for five seasons--a gentle, whimsical program that may well have rescued the American sitcom from extinction. As the obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, husband and father in an upper-middle-class African American family, you became the nation's preeminent husband and father figure--a man who unravels the thorny knots of marriage and child rearing with cheerful, knowing wit. In all of your creative work you have offered Americans a subtle and compelling model of what it takes to build a family.
Still in the prime of your primetime, you star in two CBS shows, you write "Little Bill" books for beginning readers, you undertake numerous philanthropies. Honors due to a national treasure pour in--most recently, the People's Choice Award for All-Time Favorite Performer, and a Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, as your western neighbor, we proudly bestow upon you our own highest honor.
Jeffrey Alan Hoffman '66
Doctor of Science
As a boy you hiked with your father to the top of Mount Whitney in California, nearly three miles above sea level. You are now one of our country's most experienced astronauts, an astrophysicist who has logged many days in orbit, hundreds of miles above Earth. Your College--which is now your son Orin's as well--proudly remembers that it was quick to discover your promise almost 37 years ago, admitting you to the Class of 1966 in "Early Decision." You showed how right that decision was as you earned astronomical grades in the broad, full range of your courses here, and as you won many awards and fellowships and graduated summa cum laude.
After earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics at Harvard, where you worked on astronomical telescopes, you joined the Astronaut Corps in 1978, and seven years later rode on the first of the five shuttle missions you undertook over the next decade. In April 1990, with your distinguished fellow Amherst astronaut Robert Parker of the Class of 1958, you helped launch the Hubble Space Telescope. In a spectacular mission in 1993, you and three other astronauts went out on perilous space walks and repaired the malfunctioning instrument. The images now brought home by the space telescope are 10 times sharper than anything scientists have ever seen before. The Hubble has confirmed the existence of such long-suspected astronomical phenomena as "brown dwarfs" and black holes; it has revealed new planetary systems, and recorded the birth of new stars and entire galaxies.
Now serving as NASA's European Representative in Paris, as you look back from terra firma to that historic repair mission you acknowledge it as the exciting highlight of your extraterrestrial career. Today with pride and awe we salute all of your achievements, terrestrial and beyond, with the ancient boast from our college hilltop: Terras Irradient.
James Charles Lehrer
Doctor of Humane Letters
James C. Lehrer, in an age when the clamor of the media is increasingly shrill, your voice is a balanced blend of intelligence and understatement.
In 1973, you and Robert MacNeil began one of the longest-running and most respected alliances in television news when you teamed up to anchor public television's unprecedented, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings. Following that Emmy-winning collaboration, you signed on as the Washington correspondent for the half-hour Robert MacNeil Report on WNET in New York. Within a few months, the program was distributed nationally as The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; eight years later, the show became the first hour-long nightly broadcast of national news. Since your colleague left in 1995, you have maintained sole stewardship of the program in its new iteration as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Throughout its various incarnations, your work has demonstrated an unchanging commitment to presenting the most important issues in a format that allows for comprehensiveness and discussion. Your thorough examination of substantive events has been recognized with numerous Emmy and Peabody Awards, along with virtually every other significant award for quality television and serious journalism. And you have not confined your achievements to journalism. An accomplished playwright whose works have been produced in New York and Washington, D.C., you are the author of two memoirs and 11 novels.
In an era of sensationalism, you present the world's news with meaning and balance. And in an age of celebrity, you possess a keen eye that is not distracted by the bright, shiny objects.
Mary Patterson McPherson
Doctor of Humane Letters
It's a real joy to welcome home to this campus a close and dear friend of Amherst and a true champion of undergraduate liberal arts colleges. Pat McPherson, for 12 of the remarkable 19 years that you were a renowned president of your own institution, Bryn Mawr College, you served us, too, as a wise and diligent Trustee of Amherst--from 1986 until just last year. To the deliberations and work of the Amherst Board you brought a concentrated intelligence and sound counsel, seasoned always with generosity of spirit and marvelous humor. We cannot thank you enough. Today we honor though, most of all, your life's work for higher education.
Originally you thought of becoming a high school English teacher. Instead, not long after graduating from Smith College, you went to study and teach at Bryn Mawr 38 years ago, and there earned a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Almost immediately you showed a brilliant talent for administration. Within ten years you were Dean of the Undergraduate College, and President eight years later. In our Trustee meetings we have seen first-hand the appealing qualities of steady good sense, humanity and insight that account for your success and durability. While you took strong, sometimes unpopular measures at Bryn Mawr to tighten up educational and fiscal programs, you were always admired--indeed you were the inspiration to three of your administrators who soon became college presidents themselves. You helped your college's endowment increase seven-fold, and you became a national voice and proponent of liberal arts colleges and their faculties.
In that role you caught the attention of the Mellon Foundation when it recently sought the best possible person to lead its programs for education, and two years ago you became their Vice President. In that capacity you remain our friend and ally, one who has helped keep Amherst, too, in the vanguard.
David F. Wallace '85
Doctor of Literature
David, you began your collection of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by noting that "when [you] left [your] boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend [your] dad's alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, [you] all of a sudden developed a fondness for mathematics." A tennis player of some talent, you spent most of your Amherst days in Frost Library before graduating in 1984 with summa degrees in English and philosophy. In the brief interval since then, you have become one of
this nation's most respected and most talked-about writers, an author whose works challenge and excite, in part because they stubbornly resist easy definition.
You have published widely in a number of genres, on a range of topics. Those of us who have been at Amherst for a while recognize your first novel, The Broom of the System, as your English thesis. Your sprawling 1996 novel Infinite Jest is a touchstone for current students, many of whom arrive on campus with a staggering knowledge of all 1,079 pages and 388 footnotes. Your essays and stories appear regularly in magazines and reviews, and are collected in a 1989 book, Girl With the Curious Hair, and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, released just this month.
The son of teachers of philosophy and English, you explore the relationship between language and intimacy in work that consistently blurs the distinctions between metaphysics and literature, between theory and art. Aiming high, you outline a search for connectedness and authenticity that is alternately laugh-out-loud funny and make-you-cry serious, equally appealing to head and heart. Writing in a voice that is at once distinct and somehow representative of an entire generation, you use English with the precision of a surgeon; like John McEnroe--whose quick hands, exacting shot placement, and exquisite angles brought a unique level of professional artistry to an already beautiful sport--you work on the edges in order to cover the entire court.
You embarked on these efforts as a student here at Amherst, and already you have brought them to a realization that is extremely rare and precious in its intellectual risks. We therefore are more than pleased to present you with your second Amherst diploma.
Doctor of Literature
Young, gifted, black, and poor, you grew up in post-World War II Pittsburgh, one of six children in a working-class family. You left high school at 15, when a foolish teacher challenged your authorship of a precocious paper--a paper that, obviously, you had written. Luckily for the American theater, that teacher's hurtful insult did not dampen the fires of your enormous writing talent, nor did it extinguish your hunger for knowledge.
You continued your education on your own terms: in the library and in the company of older African American men who became your teachers. In listening to their storieswhich you call beautifully "the blood's memory" you absorbed the music and tone, the rhythm and rhetoric of the street. Such stories, you have said, enable African Americans to make their way through a world that is not of their own making. And then you found your musical touchstone in the blues, the great tradition that fuels and sustains so much of your work.
Your astonishing project as a mature playwright is a 10-play cycle about black American history in this century, told one decade at a time. Beginning with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which came to Broadway in 1984, followed by Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and a half-dozen plays that zigzag through time, you have won immense popular success. Critics have hailed your instinct for crackling dramatic incident, your raucous humor, your wisdom, your ear for the vernacular. Your work has been called "the most complete cultural chronicle since Balzac wrote his vast Human Comedyan artistic whole that has grown even greater than its prize-winning parts." Lots of prizes have come your way, including two Pulitzers, two Tonys, and several New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. Dazzling success has not pulled you from your goal. You have said "it is an honor and a duty to represent our people, to demonstrate that the content of my family's life is worthy of art."
Peter J. Weiller '56
Medal for Eminent Service
When we speak of friendship we picture one person befriending another; we think of what you might call individual affections. "I awoke this morning," wrote Emerson, "with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new." But there are also the friends of institutions, and Amherst College knows thankfully who its many friends are. This morning we profess our affection for a truly remarkable friend of nearly 50 years, a devoted son of Amherst, Class of 1956.
Peter, a long citation in the yearbook indicates that as an undergraduate you were manager or assistant manager of just about everything: the golf team, Mardi Gras, the student humor magazine, the newspaper--even the yearbook. No wonder that you also belonged to something called the "Managerial Association"--and you may have managed that, too. What you remember, I understand, with greatest appreciation, though, is the education you received here, an appreciation that has made you a driving force in alumni affairs, starting with the activities of your own class, working as an agent, class secretary&SHY;and now class president. Your classmates all believe, as you joked last night, you run on Energizer batteries.
But that's not the full story, because year after year you have served the College in many other ways, too: as Development Council member, admission advisor, president of the New York Association, and major gifts solicitor for The Amherst College Campaign. Your generosity has let us give your name to a wing in our dining hall, acknowledging one quality you cherished at Amherst. As you describe it, "The sharing of ideas in an informal way--in the dorm or the fraternity, or during mealtimes--is how I received an important part of my education."
It is almost a wonder that you have had time to excel in a full-time career as well; but that you have done, too, distinguishing yourself for 40 years in the world of New York advertising with the firm of Thomson-Leeds, Inc., where you are now vice chairman of the board. Alumni loyalty like yours is the best advertisement a college can wish for. And for that, your alma mater gives heartfelt thanks.
Back to Top
W hen Matt Glickman '87 and his wife began to plan their family, they searched for a single source that would tell them everything they needed to know about
being parents. Not finding such a source, Glickman decided to create one. Now, two years after its inception, www.babycenter.com has become the nation's leading Internet information and commerce company specifically designed to meet the needs of expectant and new parents. Glickman says that babycenter.com has succeeded by providing an unusual mix of content, community, and commerce. When he created the sitein 1997, with Mark Selcow, a Brown University graduate whom he'd met at Stanford Business School"we talked about the things that the Internet could do well," Glickman says. "And these three elements came out. These are also things that are very important to prospective parents," he notes. "When you're going through the process of being a new parent, you really appreciate a resource that can provide information, the products you need, and
people to talk with."
Babycenter.com provides this information in a format that has won two Webby Awards for online excellence. The site features articles by health professionals and other experts, bulletin boards that provide a forum for discussion and advice, and a timeline that provides information relevant to various stages of pregnancy. The site also has interactive features like the Baby Namer, which provides background on the origin and meaning of names, and a page that allows new parents to create an electronic birth announcement that will be e-mailed to friends and family. An online store stocks everything from maternity clothes to car seats. Glickman reports that the best-selling item is the Medela breast pump, but notes that the Whoozit (a brightly-colored, seven-legged pillow with a soft squishy face that hides a mirror) is also popular.
People who knew Glickman at Amherst may be surprised at his ca
reer choice. While an economics and French major at Amherst, he was editor-in-chief of the college's humor magazine, Sabrina, when, he says, "it was at its absolute nadir. This convinced me that I wasn't cut out to do anything remotely serious with humor," he laughs, and so he worked for several years as a consultant with Bain & Co. After serving as the CFO for Teach for America, he went to Stanford to earn an M.B.A. and a master's in educational policy, intending to use both of his degrees by developing educational software. Instead, he joined the staff at Intuit, and helped develop the "Quicken" software program, which helps people track their finances. He worked there until babycenter's launch in 1997.
"I've always thought that about 80 percent of my efforts should be devoted to the private sector, while 20 percent of my efforts should go to other things," Glickman notes. Today, he reports that one of his biggest challenges is separating his business life from his personal life. He and his wife, Susie, became parents shortly after babycenter was launched, and their daughter, Emma, is now 16 months old. "Rarely do you find someone whose personal life is so closely connected to what they do for work," he notes. "In many ways, the site was built for me. Now that I'm a dad, I see lots of opportunities to build the site and expand it so that we can continue to provide helpful information for parents of kids all the way up to age 12." Babycenter's recent purchase by eToys.com, a leading Internet provider of children's toys, should help with this growth.
Glickman believes that his Amherst education was the ideal preparation for his current post. "People think that you have to have an engineering background to work with the Web," he says. "But really, a liberal arts degree is just what you need to prepare for the diversity of a job like mine. The rigor of my Amherst experience provides the perfect preparation. It's helped me figure out how to create a path in chaos."
Back to Top
By proclamation of its mayor, the Italian village of Sermoneta celebrated Donaldo Pitkin Giornoor Donald Pitkin Dayon July 3 of this year. For this joyous occasion, the entire village and several of Italy's most distinguished academics gathered in the Palazzo Communale, at the Parco Rimembranza, and in its new art gallery to honor Amherst's emeritus professor of anthropology.
Highlights of the day included:
|the unveiling of "Sermoneta 1951," an exhibition Pitkin prepared that includes extracts from 15 villagers' life histories illustrated by his photographs;
| a roundtable discussion about what history teaches us. Participants included the honoree,
the esteemed sociologist Enrico Pugliese of the Università di Roma, and one-time Amherst Copeland Fellow Guido Fabiani, now rector of the Terza Università di Roma;
|the showing of Pitkin's 1991 documentary film The House That Giacomo Built, with a newly prepared Italian voice-over narrative; and
| the premier of a musical composition incorporating songs Pitkin tape-recorded in 1952 of Sermonta's men and women singing in the fields.
Because this was Italy, and because it was summer, there was also, of course, an outdoor feast.
Pitkin first set foot in Sermoneta nearly a half-century ago, when he was a Harvard graduate student beginning his anthropology field work on the family. Over the years, he was to write three books about the life and times of Sermoneta's peoplehis only English-language book being The House That Giacomo Built, originally published by Oxford University Press in 1985 and just reissued by Dowling College Press. The book won two prestigious awards in 1988: the Premio Guido Dorso and the Premio Internazionale di Studi Etnoantropologici.
His other books are La Ruota Gira: La Vita in Sermoneta 1951-1952 (Franco Angeli), and Mama, Casa, Posto Fisso (Edizioni Scientifiche), a study of the entire village from 1951 to 1986.
During his many visits to Sermoneta, Pitkin earned the respect and friendship of the people whose way of life he had set out to chronicle as a young man. Most of his subjects have had only rudimentary schooling, and few read for pleasure. It is possible that none of them have read his books.
Pitkin was one of the first--if not the first--anthropologist to study the Italian family after World War II. As initially conceived, his plan was to learn what had happened to the organization of the peasant farming family in the aftermath of the reclamation of the Pontine marshes--a showpiece of Mussolini's Fascist regime. Many of Sermoneta's men had labored on the great reclamation project and some had even moved out of the village to the plain below.
The young anthropologist and his wife Emily moved into a house in the village in 1951 and stayed for 18 months. "It was la miseria," Pitkin recently recalled. "Hard times. Intense depression. There was no industry in the area, and the old landlord system was still in place." There was never enough food, never enough fuel. At dawn, the men trekked to a central spot where bosses chose a lucky few to labor for the day on construction sites or in the fields. Married women stayed at home in the village to look after their hungry children.
Living in the village, Pitkin said, "was a lot like living on shipboard. People's lives were quite public. A lot was happening out-of-doors."
The first element of Pitkin's field work was to prepare a community study. He asked the villagers to fill notebooks with their life stories. Eventually, 78 people did so. The young American couple took an active interest in the life of the village, and attended all the baptisms, weddings, and public events they could. From the beginning, Pitkin took photographs as well. He was astonished when he was asked to take a picture of a baby who had just died, but of course he acquiesced. "No one else in the village had a camera," he said.
Nor did anyone in the village of 900 residents have indoor plumbing or electric appliances or automobiles. Though in Rome, 60 kilometers to the north, post-war prosperity was arriving, these were undreamed of luxuries in villages like Sermoneta. Most families lit their homes with oil or gas lamps. Those who could afford to have electricity installed (the current went on at dusk and went off at dawn) typically used it to light a 15-watt bulb in the kitchen, the center of family life.
Next door to the Pitkins lived a family that had emigrated from Calabria in the 1930s. Maria, their second daughter, came to the Pitkin household to help with such arduous tasks as drawing water and washing clothes. Like all the children of the village, she was barely educated. Maria earned money by picking olives in a nearby grove with other young unmarried women. At the time she met the Pitkins, she had just become engaged to Giacomo, a handsome young laborer. She was diligently preparing her trousseau--accumulating sheets and towels and other precious household goods for her marriage.
Maria was to become the central figure in Pitkin's lifelong study of Sermoneta. Eventually Pitkin spent countless hours in the household that Maria and Giacomo established--as an honored scholar and as a treasured friend. After his initial 18-month field study of Sermoneta, he returned nearly every year. In 1977-78, when the household consisted of Maria and Giacomo, their four children,
one daughter-in-law, and Maria's widowed mother, he spent the better part of every day in the kitchen, observing and participating in all family activity. He tape-recorded Maria's mother's life story, which she recounted in her native Calabrian dialect; he later had her testimony transcribed and translated into Italian. Always a diligent anthropologist, he travelled south to her native village of
Stilo, in Calabria, and found it as desolate, as unyielding to human endeavor, as she remembered it.
The House That Giacomo Built chronicles the family's tremendous financial struggle over the decades. Their struggle was compounded by poverty, lack of education, lack of patronage, and, when they arrived in Sermoneta, prejudice, for Calabrians were held by the locals to be backward. Industry, self-reliance, imagination, forbearancethese traits allowed Maria and Giacomo to secure their family life in changing times and against extremely long odds.
A diligent, hard-working man, Giacomo was never able to find a job that lasted more than two years. As Pitkin has observed, under Maria's expert management, the family scrimped and scrambled and used every available resource to make ends meet. After a dozen years of marriage, with a little bit of luck, the couple were able to leave Sermoneta, where they had rented a small damp stone cottage, and to build themselves a fine new house on the plain below the village.
The question for the anthropologist is what this move and its attendant prosperity meant for the family structure. In most "modern" industrial societies, the children would be expected to leave their parents' home and strike out on their own. In Sermoneta, as Pitkin has observed--and specifically in the case of Giacomo and Mariathe family continued to pool its resources, especially the sons' salaries, and then built, on the same plot of land, homes for each son and his new wife.
Moreover, consistent with her own sense of family tradition, Maria scrupulously prepared trousseaux for her two daughters, who in turn moved into houses built for them by their new husbands' fathers.
Over the last half-century, Pitkin witnessed nearly phenomenal improvement in the peasant family's standard of living. While Maria's mother's dowry consisted of scarcely more than mattress ticking and bed linens, her grandchildren live in villas that, in Pitkin's view, befit the station and tastes of a successful California businessman. The sons of Giacomo and Maria have found good, steady work in a nearby pharmaceutical factory. Their daughters and daughters-in-law stay close to the hearth, raising their own families in their well-appointed houses and interacting daily with their in-laws.
One of Maria's granddaughters attends Università di Roma. This year, her second at the university, she will take up residence in Rome, away from her family for the first time. To Pitkin, this development is "mind-boggling." The girl's mother is very proud, but most of the family don't speak of it, Pitkin says. They fear that she, like modern women elsewhere, might turn her back on a woman's traditional responsibilities of motherhood and family.
For the July 3 festivities, Pitkin brought a dozen members of his own family from the United States to Sermoneta and introduced them to the villagers he has known for decades. But the best, as always, was the reunion with Maria and her family.
Giacomo died on Thanksgiving last year. Maria will live out her days surrounded by her children and grand-children, in the compound that she and Giacomo built.
Back to Top