YAM Notes: May/June 2017

By Martin M. Snapp, Jr.

June 12, 1967: a day that altered and illuminated our times. And we were there.

My favorite memory of graduation day is when we were all lining up for our entrance through Phelps Gate, and Maury Yeston, who had made his way to the front of the line to see who would be getting an honorary degree, came rushing back to us, his hair, tassel, and robe streaming behind him. “It’s The Duke! It’s The Duke! It’s The Duke!” he shouted, meaning that one of the awardees was his idol, Duke Ellington.

Ironically, Maury, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, almost wasn’t allowed to graduate at all.

“Since I had taken all possible undergrad music courses by the end of junior year, I was enrolled in a School of Music graduate composition course in senior year,” he explains. “Unbeknownst to me, that upper school had an academic year a week longer than Yale College’s. Thus, as I was anticipating graduating, a panicked Professor William Waite informed me that the composer who taught that graduate class had given an assignment after the undergraduate year ended, and I would need to complete it—or not graduate!

“The assignment was: Write an orchestral theme and variations in short score, with four variations—one in the style of Hindemith, one Stravinsky, one Schoenberg, and one Bartok. I told the guy I could pull an all-nighter and get it to him in the morning. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I have to be in New York tomorrow. Too bad. You’ll have to get it to me there.’

“I told him I would take a train down to Manhattan and bring it to his 5th Avenue apartment. That night I wrote a 12-tone composition for the assignment. I designed the ‘tone row’ to begin with the note B, followed by an A, followed by Si (You know: like do, re, mi, fa, so, la, si, do). The first six notes of the tone row spelled ‘bastard.’  Then I transposed it, so it said ‘bastard’ again, at a higher level. In this composition, I basically called him a bastard about 700 times. Of course I told William Waite this, and he secretly told about 80 percent of the faculty of the School of Music, and to this day that composer, who is still quite prominent, has no idea that he’s the only one who was unaware of being musically called out as a Class-A prick. Which he was.”

John Dillon remembers that the honorary degree recipients were marshaled by art historian Theodore “Tubby” Sizer, Yale’s first Pursuivant of Arms. “Our commencement, alas, was the occasion of his final procession,” says John. “He died on June 27 of that year. I watched the group assemble in front of Phelps Gate and still have visual recollections of three of them: the tall Ellington, the diminutive Barbara Tuchman, and the portly Sizer bearing Yale’s great processional mace.” Victor Ashe ran into Mayor Richard Lee in the procession of VIPs for the ceremony. “Victor,” said Hizzoner, “don’t ever look back and don’t ever return.” “Little did he know that I would go on to be mayor of Knoxville and president of the US Conference of Mayors (Lee was also president of the USCM),” says Victor. Paul Lamar says, “My clearest memory of graduation is leaving the Old Campus after the main event and—two minutes later—dropping my clay pipe (remember?) on Elm Street. To smithereens! At the time I thought, ‘Well, that’s a bummer and a bad omen.’ Truth be told, however, my life has not been a smash-up, and for that I am grateful.”

Some commencement memories are bittersweet for Jorge Dominguez. “I was a member of Elihu, and two of my fellow delegation members were Bill Hilgendorf and Paul Monette. Commencement week was the last time I saw Bill alive. And during that week Paul delivered his poem as our Class Poet. Before his death, he would become a major public figure regarding HIV/AIDS and associated issues. More parochially, he would become the best man at my wedding. However, my clearest memory is none of the above but, rather, utter panic that I had to carry a huge Yale flag on a tall, heavy masthead. (The winner of the Alpheus Henry Snow award—me for our class—had this honorable torture.) I no longer remember whether I carried the Yale College flag or the Yale University flag; all I remember is how heavy it was and how much in doubt I was that I would not drop the flag en route to the ceremony. I made it; and, more importantly, the flag made it.”

Dick McManus recalls, “We held the senior prom in Branford Courtyard on a starry, starry night. Spring was very much in the air and beautiful young women filled the dance floor dressed in their finest. I led my date, my girlfriend in the parlance of the time, to a stone gothic alcove semi-hidden in the far corner of the yard. On bended knee, I proffered a ring and proposed marriage. Cathy accepted, and we were wed on the Jersey Shore that September, one week before heading north to law school and the years of turmoil that followed. After 50 years together, we are back where we started, so happy to be alive and at our beloved Yale once again.” Bruce Bradley had a blind date for the prom named Shirley Griggs. “We have now been married for 47 years,” he says. For Tom Jones, Golden Week—the week between the end of finals and Commencement—was not only the first time his parents heard him sing with the Whiffenpoofs, “It was the week Gail and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.”

Randy Alfred loved Golden Week. “It was wonderful: a week of hanging out with close friends and no course obligations to worry about, no imminent exams, no deadlines looming for unfinished term papers. I remember walking around the Morse College courtyard, swimming in the golden light of its warm and variegated surfaces. After four years of familiarity with Eero Saarinen’s great work of art and three years actually living amidst its gates and walls and towers, I was still seeing wonderful details I hadn’t noticed before. At the time, I attributed this entirely to the architect’s inspired design.

“Taking nothing away from Saarinen’s brilliance, I now see other influences. For one, I’d never stayed in New Haven that far into June. I was literally seeing things in a new light: late spring, late afternoon. Nor had I experienced leisure there unencumbered by the day-to-day and week-to-week bustle of courses, bursary job, and extracurriculars.

“Too, my appreciation received some assistance from a mild botanical psychotropic not in short supply that week. Well, why not? No classes, and that soundtrack! Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was just out. Eero Saarinen was my fifth Beatle. The future lay beckoning before us, but I felt a little sad, suffering anticipatory nostalgia. I knew this wonderful education—both in and out of the classroom—was drawing to a close. I would miss this school, Yale, and these people, my friends.”

See you in New Haven!