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SPECIAL REPORT: Communities of students, alumni, and friends commemorate Boston College’s Sesquicentennial
Boston College’s 150th anniversary, which has been marked (since the Mass at Fenway Park last fall) by a series of academic symposia bringing eminent visitors to campus, suddenly turned into a celebration of community between February 9 and March 23. The timing was apt, as 2013 progressed toward the anniversary proper, April 1, the date in 1863 when Governor John Andrew signed the school’s act of incorporation. The events that took place in late winter and early spring recognized Boston College’s immigrant roots, tradition of service, and a custom of public performance dating back to the 19th century, when a concert or play could fill 2,000 seats in Boston College Hall in the South End.
On the big stage
Live from Symphony Hall
By Jane Whitehead
As more than 2,100 Boston College alumni, faculty, staff, parents, students, and friends poured into storied Symphony Hall on Saturday, March 23, some 240 student musicians and vocalists were already scattered throughout the building. Members of four of the University’s best-known ensembles, they were relaxing and making final preparations for the Sesquicentennial concert.
In Higginson Hall, a function room in the building’s Cohen Wing generally used for pre-symphony dining, six vocalists from BC bOp!, the University’s jazz ensemble, warmed up around a baby grand piano. At one of the circular dinner tables, Ning Lu ’16, a trombone player with both BC bOp! and the University Wind Ensemble, showed fellow freshmen and bOp! members Parker Aubin (trombone) and Max Warwick (drums) how to use drumsticks as chopsticks.
In the main building, four members of the Wind Ensemble, after visiting singers practicing in the basement Chorus Room, found themselves at the top of a concrete staircase on the wrong side of a locked door. While awaiting rescue by a friend summoned via text message, they recalled how daunting Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story had seemed at their first run-through back in January. “We’ve worked really hard and we’ve come a long way,” said baritone saxophone player Kelsey Frederick ’16.
In the lofty Tuning Room just off the stage, principal second violin Emma Lott ’14 raised her voice above a din of competing pitches to speak to a visitor. “I’m so excited!” she said, adding that at the previous day’s dress rehearsal, “we all went out there on stage and took pictures.”
Music “helped to build Boston College,” notes Jeremiah McGrann, assistant chair in the music department, in a booklet handed out to audience members with their programs. He cites the concerts held in 1860 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston’s South End to raise funds for the new college’s construction. This afternoon, music will be a means of celebration.
At 1:45 p.m., some 140 Chorale singers file onstage, the men in tuxedos, the women in matching long black satin dresses. Some are stifling excited laughter, some look solemn, as Mark Hertenstein ’14, the group’s director of concert organization, sends each off with a fist bump in front of the double doors that lead to the stage. The singers take their places on risers behind the University’s 75-member symphony orchestra.
With orchestra and chorus in place, Conductor John Finney takes the stage and leads the house in singing “Hail! Alma Mater!” by T.J. Hurley, Class of 1885. (The audience also gets to join in Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus.) The first half of the two-hour program features eight pieces, including the opening movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Randall Thompson’s meditative “Alleluia” for unaccompanied chorus, composed in 1940.
Huge applause marks the entrance of actor Chris O’Donnell ’92, to narrate Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” the 1942 tribute to the man who was the nation’s president in the year of the University’s charter. The narration concludes with a segment of the Gettysburg Address—”That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”—spoken over an orchestral accompaniment that blends folk tunes with solemn brass fanfares.
Following the intermission, director of bands Sebastian Bonaiuto, in his conducting debut at Symphony Hall, is joined onstage by the 20 players and six vocalists of BC bOp!. He leads them in a set of five instrumental and vocal jazz numbers, including Don Menza’s “Groovin’ Hard,” Hank Levy’s “Decoupage,” and J. Mayo Williams’s “That Cat is High.” To conclude the concert, Bonaiuto directs the University Wind Ensemble in Bernstein’s technically demanding Symphonic Dances, with the composer’s short piece “Slava! (A Political Overture)” as a coda, before turning to the audience and leading a stadium-worthy rendition of T.J. Hurley’s “For Boston.”
“Fantastic!” says Bill Tobin ’57, MBA’70, who lingers in the lobby afterward. Once a bass in the (then all-male) Glee Club, the forerunner of the Chorale, Tobin is especially impressed by the large turnout of students. University trustee Sylvia Simmons, M.Ed.’62, Ph.D.’90, H’11, agrees that filling Symphony Hall on a Saturday afternoon in spring is an “incredible” feat.
Violinist Gabrielle Bacarella ’13 rushes up to her parents Joe and Josephine, who drove from Long Island for the concert and have recorded every moment on smart phone and camera. “We’re all still in shock,” she tells them. “None of us wanted to leave the stage.”
In a new world
An oath and a welcome
By William Bole
On March 21, a bright and chilly spring day, 94 immigrants from 42 countries assembled in Robsham Theater, raised their right hands, and renounced “all allegiance . . . to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty.” They came from countries as varied as Brazil and Somalia, India and Germany, Iraq and Vietnam, yet, with those and other words, they became U.S. citizens.
The naturalization ceremony was hosted by Boston College as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, to commemorate the University’s origins as a college for the children of immigrants, mostly Irish. Although the federal courts oversee citizenship ceremonies, the proceedings are often held at significant community landmarks—such as, in Massachusetts, Faneuil Hall and the USS Constitution.
An hour before the 3:00 ceremony, the citizenship candidates began queuing in Robsham’s lobby, waiting for the theater doors to open. They were accompanied by parents, grandparents, children, spouses, and friends, in a crowd flecked with Muslim head garb and colorful African fabrics. The applicants took their seats in the middle section of the theater’s first level, while the onlookers filled the tiers behind and to either side. Everyone who entered the theater—Boston College students, faculty, and staff included—was handed a small American flag.
The hour-long proceedings began when court clerk Samantha Stoutenburg, in a dark pantsuit, entered the auditorium. “All rise!” she declared. “God save the United States of America and this honorable court. The court is now open.” Behind her, in a black robe, was George A. O’Toole, Jr. ’69, P’09, ’11, a U.S. District Court judge for Massachusetts, followed by a procession of Boston College dignitaries, from University President William P. Leahy, SJ, to UGBC vice president Kudzai Taziva ’13 (who later led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance).
As University Secretary and chair of the Sesquicentennial celebration, Terrence P. Devino, SJ, gave the invocation. “May their hopes and their dreams be ever blessed,” he said of the candidates—eliciting an “Amen” and a “Yes, Lord” from several Nigerian women in the observer section. The women belong to a Pentecostal church in Brockton, Massachusetts, one of whose congregants was taking the oath.
Standing before an assembly that was doubtless multi-faith, Devino chose to end with the words, “All these prayers we ask in God’s holy name,” rather than “through Christ our Lord,” as a priest might otherwise invoke.
Further messages were conveyed by Swiss-born Alberto Godenzi, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), who was naturalized three years ago, and Denis Riordan of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. It was Riordan who had broached the idea of bringing a naturalization ceremony to Boston College, after he spoke at a summer class on immigration policy taught by Westy Egmont, founding director of GSSW’s five-month old Immigrant Integration Lab, which studies the needs of U.S. immigrants and strategies for assistance.
Court clerk Stoutenburg administered the 140-word Oath of Allegiance, at which point the inductees became Americans. They sat back down, and Judge O’Toole greeted them with the words, “Well, good afternoon, fellow citizens,” bringing the house to its feet with long, loud applause and flag-waving.
O’Toole invited the new citizens to stand as he called out their individual countries of origin (which he recited alphabetically). As the last participant, from Yemen, sat down, the judge declared, “Is that a dynamic fabric to make up this country, or not?” There were more cheers and flags in the air.
University President William P. Leahy, SJ, offered remarks that linked the ceremony and the Sesquicentennial. “You remind us not only of your roots, but also of our roots,” Leahy said, adding that all Americans, native and naturalized, have an obligation to contribute to “the greater good.” Also participating in the ceremony were Boston College’s ROTC color guard and the vocalists of BC bOp!, who sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America,” as voices in the audience softly joined in.
The celebration continued with a reception in the Robsham lobby. A long line of the new Americans waited to have their pictures taken with Judge O’Toole, who posed smiling with each of them. Nearby, four GSSW students staffed a voter registration table.
Among the new citizens was Chuda Rijal ’16, a Bhutanese refugee who plans to major in biochemistry. He was greeted after the ceremony by his parents, grandfather, and younger brother, who now reside in Concord, New Hampshire. “I’m glad to be a citizen,” Rijal said in a comment that had two distinct meanings. The Boston College freshman is now an American, but he is also a citizen for the first time—of any country. He was born in a refugee camp in Nepal, after his parents fled ethnic persecution in Bhutan. The family came to America in 2008, but he remained stateless until raising his hand in Robsham.
The focus on immigration continued that evening and the next day, as Boston College’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice sponsored a symposium, “Migration: Past, Present and Future,” which included scholarly presentations on issues such as U.S. immigration policy and the plight of refugees worldwide.
On a Saturday in L.A.
By Jeremy Rosenberg
On the morning of Saturday, February 9, Alfonso Chavez ’94 stands at one of eight rows of long banquet tables—”funnel stations,” to use the vernacular of the day—in a spacious ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City, Los Angeles. Chavez, president of an IT start-up, holds a plastic scoop containing powdered soy protein in his right hand and a scoop of dried vegetable mixture in his left.
Next to Chavez, Susan Dvonch ’87, principal at a recruiting firm, holds a scoop filled with long-grain rice. And nearby, Anne Hitchcock ’98, partner at a multimedia medical education company, is reaching for a small package of vitamins, while steadying a clear plastic bag under a bright yellow funnel that sits on a cradle in the middle of the table.
Chavez and Dvonch pour their ingredients through the funnel, and Hitchcock drops her package into the bag before placing the bag alongside others in a small blue bin. For the next 90 minutes the threesome will repeat this process—scoop, funnel, bag.
Some 220 Boston College alumni and friends are at work in the room, all sporting white T-shirts that read “Eagles For Others” in a bold, black font on the front. They are greeted by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and David Quigley, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences‚Äìand are here to kick off “On the Road,” Boston College’s Sesquicentennial service project that will travel to seven cities in the next four months. In three- or four-person teams the volunteers will prepare packets that, when cooked in hot water, will feed six people 7,000 miles away in the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
On the Road includes scheduled stops in Miami (February 23), Conte Forum (April 13), and San Francisco (April 20), New York City (April 27), Dublin, Ireland (May 4), and Chicago (June 15). The Los Angeles event has been organized by the Office of University Advancement and a 30-person local alumni host committee. Two aid organizations—Catholic Relief Services and Stop Hunger Now—are providing supplies and arranging transport and distribution of the packets. The goal of On the Road is to pack 150,000 meals.
Runners ferry blue bins from the funnel stations across the ballroom to “scales and sealers” stations. These hold small digital scales and extra rice, in case volunteers need to top off any packets to achieve the required weight of 379–384 grams (just under a pound). The bags are fused shut with heat-sealing machines, and the meals are passed to adjacent boxing stations where they are packed in cardboard cartons bearing the words: “Humanitarian relief. Not for resale. Packaged by volunteers.”
Tom Murphy ’50, GSSW’56, and Bianca Gandarias ’12 work together at a weighing and heat-sealing station. A passer-by asks which one is working at a faster clip? “We haven’t competed yet,” Gandarias, who works in hospitality, says with a laugh. “I don’t want to embarrass her,” replies Murphy, a retired United Way executive.
“For so many college students, service is in their DNA,” Fr. Leahy says, surveying the action. “When we came to L.A., so many of our Boston College community said, ‘We want to be part of that.'” He has just greeted JoAnn Finnegan P’82. She and her husband, Dan Finnegan ’50, are on a boxing crew. Along one wall of the ballroom, wooden pallets hold growing stacks of cartons. The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” plays over the public address system.
Thirty-six packets fit into one cardboard box. Fifty-five boxes fit on a pallet. Each time an additional 5,000 packets are boxed, someone in the room bangs a celebratory gong. Intermittently, a shouted “We are” rings out, bringing the cheerful response, “BC.”
When the work finishes around noon, the crowd gathers in an adjacent ballroom for a buffet lunch and remarks from various speakers including historian Quigley. The year 1863, Quigley says, was “one of the most critical, perilous years in American history”—an annum that includes the Emancipation Proclamation in January and the Gettysburg Address in November. “Boston College’s [creation] was part of a broader national moment of wrenching transformation,” he says, pointing to significant land use changes in Boston and growing U.S. interest in a pair of recent books: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862).
The day’s organizers set a goal of packing 30,000 meals. Following Quigley’s remarks, Isabelle Boone ’03, an HR manager at Paramount Pictures, announces the final tally, to vigorous applause: 35,436. Two weeks later, nearly 200 volunteers in Miami add 30,240 meals to that total.
Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer.