Friday, 28 May 2010

HAPPY ENDING – ESTA NO SERA LA ULTIMA GENERACION




Can anyone guess what this guitar playing and singing is all about? It is not evident and I misjudged the event completely myself. To keep up attention to the full, let me wait with telling you the story behind the picture. Maybe we can come back to it towards the end of this posting, provided there is room for it there.

The week before last was Finals week at UCB. All week long, students were sitting around campus, not moving a limb, staring at books or computer screens wherever you went. Hardly a seat available at the cafés outside the various libraries, not to speak of inside the libraries proper, and a huge crowd was seated in a lofty “ballroom”, located behind the café in the Chávez Student Center close to Sather Gate.


The latter crowd intrigued me, since there was no silence to speak of in this huge hall, rather, a consistent low-volume buzz reigned, created by small groups having semi-silent discussions. Curious as I am, I immediately investigated the situation. It turned out that this was the locality for student-to-student tutoring in the “hard sciences”. You had to reserve time with a senior student, who would help you with your last minute issues prior to exam. Well, I have studied at four academic institutions and it is the first time ever I have seen anything so neighbourly and well organised in higher education. This serves as a good example for other universities!


This being the second term of the academic year, finals are, of course, to be followed by graduation ceremonies, for those who have done their homework in time, and have done so the necessary several years in a row. So, seeing all this diligence, I was starting to gear up my camera for the big graduation ceremony for those leaving campus, but thought that there would be plenty of time for my preparations, given the need for faculty to correct exams and pronounce results prior to the ceremony. But this is America, folks here are more in a hurry than elsewhere.

On Saturday of Finals week I ambled in the general direction of campus after my usual post-luncheon coffee at Peet’s on Telegraph, not expecting any special activity at Sather Gate, the week having been characteristically devoid of joyous prancing at Sproul Plaza. But I had hardly put my foot on campus grounds when being met by a shock of people, half of them youngsters in black gowns and funny hats, carrying flowers in their hands, as well as around their necks, and the other half, somewhat older, with big smiles on their face and shining cameras on their waving hand.


It dawned on me that graduation ceremonies were already in full swing. But how could this be? Finals were barely over and dons could not possibly have corrected all the exams during the night between Friday and Saturday? Whilst shaking my head at this unwarranted degree of urgency, suddenly, I heard a fresh voice shouting “Emiiiil”! And who came towards me with a big smile on her face, and graduation attire draped over her shoulder, if not my old (or rather, young) friend from Memory Glade, Catherine!


She was just back from her graduation ceremony near – you guessed it – Memory Glade, but told me that the post-graduation party was still in full swing on this huge lawn, as made for partying. Catherine, if you read this, permit me to extend to you my most hearty congratulations, also on behalf of all the readers of this blog, who have learnt about your sophisticated games at “Big Games down Memory Glade”. If you have time, we would also appreciate a comment from you, telling us, which school or department you graduated from.

As Catherine rushed off, together with her parents, I hurried in the opposite direction, to get at least some pictures from the UCB graduation festivities, the main part of which I thought I had sadly missed. When I arrived at the glade, the party was already over and youngsters were again beginning to frolic on the lawn, the main difference being that black gowns now dressed their young bodies – well, kind of.


At that stage, I felt thoroughly sorry for myself for having missed what I conceived as the grand finale of UCB activities. It may surprise you, but graduation ceremonies appear to affect me deeply. They represent the end of a long and hard, but at the same time charming education period, a turntable in life, a looking forward to forthcoming careers. Education has meant everything for me. Has it not catapulted me from life in a, granted cosy but, poor village at the outermost corner of Austria to a fulfilling working life with high administrative posts, first in Sweden, thereafter in Geneva and, finally, in Europe’s Capital?

So I know in my bones what education must mean to American, as well as foreign guest, students, often coming from families with moderate means, for whom economic advancement through successful careers is the quintessence of life. Being allowed to celebrate with them the fulfilment of their dreams, in a great ceremony, would constitute a privilege for a person with my background. The more so since I never found occasion to partake, despite my 22 years of academic studies, in any graduation ceremony of my own. I even missed my Ph. D. ceremony in Stockholm’s town hall, where they would have saluted me as new Laureate with cannon shots and all.


Seeking consolation I headed, with my head bowed in contemplation, towards the small park adjacent to the Campanile. All was calm and only a lonely couple kept me company when I raised my camera to the elegant fountain located in the middle of this small greens interspaced by sycamores. However, when turning my head in the other direction, I could not help noticing a great number of chairs being placed just below the tower. At the same time people started to drop in and it became evident that a ceremony of some kind was in preparation also here, in the absolute centre of UCB.


Imagine my joy when I was informed that this was to be the graduation ceremony of the School of Information, the youngest institution on Campus, placed just in the vicinity of the Campanile, in the oldest building on Campus, South Hall. This was a special treat for me with my background as information economist. The school was founded as recently as 1996, with, of all people, Hal Varian as founding Dean.

Hal is well known as the author of THE famous textbook on microeconomics, which has delighted generations of budding economics graduates, so it came as a surprise to me that he also was a specialist in information economics. But, if you study his publications, he managed to embrace the new computer world with a vengeance at a mature age, when people, such as myself, start thinking about a life of leisure. Besides having been Dean for this new school and being professor at Haas School of Business he is also Google’s chief economist, helping them with their pricing schedules. Another Genius on Campus, albeit not (yet?) a Nobel Laureate.


But back to the main thread! Soon the graduates from the school came bouncing up the steps to the park and aligned themselves, with boisterous eagerness, for a first group photo session. Up to the Campanile another group ascended, much more colourful but with far less bounce, and convened for a preparatory session; this being of course the illustre Faculty. Notably, the female Dean was dressed in the most colourful dresses of them all, befitting Dons in the young and spritely School of Information.


Musicians on the lawn soon started to play, to get everyone in the mood and line up for the ceremony and, among hushed excitement of the visitors on their chairs, the graduates started to defile, past the fountain and down the aisle, towards their seats in front of their relatives and friends, all conveniently located just below, and in the shade of, the Campanile.


The Dean, Professor Annalee Saxenian, opened the ceremony in a delightful blend of pomp and funky gestures, thereby indicating, subconsciously, that a new age had arrived, asking for reform of modes and mores. The Gentleman behind her to the left was Tim Brown, the CEO and president of innovation and design firm IDEO, and also the keynote speaker at the ceremony. To his right, always deliciously smiling, was Professor Kimiko Ryokai, who soon would receive, as the ceremony progressed, the graduates’ Distinguished Mentor Award. To her right was sitting, I believe, Professor Hal Varian, already presented to you.


Soon speeches started to roll around the little park, with Tim Brown setting the high mark. But my personal favourite was the impromptu performance of the pair of graduate speakers, one of which bore the, at least for some of us, familiar name of Erin.


In line with the boisterous nature of American students, the speeches were regularly interrupted with enthusiastic clapping of hands and loud hoots from the audience. At a certain stage of the graduates’ speech the two made an “attempt” to define the School’s holy mission, by reading out loud the official mission statement. This was met with thunderous laughter, not only by the students, but also by the faculty. All in all, this was ceremony in a relaxed and excellently humorous mood, quite unlike the pomp and circumstances we apply for such occasions back on the old continent.


In line with this, when it was time for the Master students to get their degree, many of them came on stage with light dancing steps, winking and cheering to the audience, who answered with boisterous clapping and hooting. A specially touching scene evolved when the always deliciously smiling, but also slightly minute, Professor Ryokai had to crown her Ph. D. graduate with the insignia of his new degree, whereupon he jokingly fell on his knees to provide her with the necessary leverage, all of this amidst great laughs and cheers from the audience.


Greatly relieved to having been granted the opportunity of witnessing this wonderful ceremony, I followed the crowd, who was wallowing down the steps in leisurely pace, towards South Hall’s outer yard, where tents had been raised and refreshments prepared for the great post-graduation party. But before indulging in those renewed pleasures, permit me to show you some clippings from the ceremony, so you can judge for yourself the relaxed and happy atmosphere of the event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I_b2rF8_Qo

To those of you, young enough to be able to follow the remarkably speedy sequence of words emanating from Erin, I recommend to listen to the official recording of the student presentation, to be found at:

http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/newsandevents/news/commencement2010/studentspeakers


But now back to our story. When I approached the happy crowd, with the intention to mingle, munch a sandwich or two and sample the champagne, I was, to me regret, not permitted to join the party, being without the company of a graduate. But this was understandable and did not prevent me from documenting this leisurely after-event. People enjoyed themselves greatly under the tents, and in the cool shade cast by the oldest façade on Campus; above it all the Campanile towered, as if watching out for this fledgling school and its joyous events.



After this enticing interlude I was quite satiated with graduation festivities and directed my steps firmly back towards Sproul Plaza, with the intention of finding a suitable eating place on Telegraph. But, when reaching Bancroft Avenue, the street just outside Campus, I was suddenly greeted by a tremendous noise, issuing from a happy crowd of Latinos, with the leaders turning great “rattles” (we are talking here about “Ratschen”, the turning wheels, creating tremendous noise, used at Carnaval in the Alpine countries, and apparently also in use among the Hispanics) and mounting the street in the direction of Sproul Plaza.



They were engaged in, what appeared to me, a post-graduation round-up, in a special Hispanic style, much enjoyed by the numerous spectators, not least your author of this posting. Soon, the crowd congregated on Sproul Plaza where, suddenly a Mariachi band materialized, with fully three guitars, a harmonica and, to put the high note on the ceremony, a silvery trumpet, glittering in the golden sunshine of late afternoon. No need for a singer in this noble company, the parents having had talent aplenty to accompany the music with mellow throats, as being witnessed by the title picture!


After a brief mêlée at the Plaza, the party moved briskly onward, past Sather Gate and up the slope towards the Campanile, having a brief improvised performance at each place of architectural prominence. Delighted by this exotic manner of honouring graduates, I pursed this happy party for a while. So on we went together, climbing the hill past venerable Wheeler Hall, when I suddenly was confronted with a cosy looking pair of females, one of them attired with a welcome offspring. But was the lady on the left not a face well known from the graduation ceremony witnessed earlier? Indeed she was, no other than the always deliciously smiling Professor Ryokai, albeit this time in civil attire. Being able to watch her smile at closer distance this time, I discovered that it was not only delicious, but also very warm and kind, and I started to understand, why the graduates had honoured her with the Distinguished Mentor Award.


But back to our procession of Hispanic clamour! By then we had arrived, back again, at the prominent UCB bell tower, which inspired the band to ever more intensive melodies. I could not refrain from trying to catch the rolling tones from Mexico with my pour videoing abilities, which can be observed by copying the reference below onto your internet reader’s address line:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0e7h-z8m80Q

By then I was somewhat satuated with Hispanic music and gestures and looking forward to a well deserved rest among the Sycamores below the tower, before returning, at last, to my earlier search for a suitable temple of refreshments. By the way, do we now have the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this page? “Yep”, kind of, but we are not yet at the end of the story. More about this issue at a forthcoming posting.

In the meantime, let us continue where we left off, with me resting among the sycamores. Alas, it turned out to be a short rest indeed. Hardly had I sat down on a bench under the trees, that a group of cool youngsters appeared, strapping what looked like police straps between the trees. Was I witnessing the scene of a recent crime? Far from it, it was time for the “Slack-liners” to make their entrance. It appears that this is a permanent event, taking place every weekend among the sycamores. Are these UCB students, practising for their finals in a Department or Programme hitherto unknown to me? Or are they just relaxing from their harsh studies by engaging in a demanding hobby on one of the more beautiful spots on Campus? Meriel, the young equilibrist on the line, if you read this, it would please me, as well as the readers of this blog, immensely, if you could place a comment, explaining the rationale of this intriguing training scheme.


Well, dear readers, this is the longest blog posting up to now, but there was a long list of events to tick off this time. Could you believe that all these marvellous activities, witnessed by me and reported here, took place within the short time of only three hours and a half? This shows again what a wondrous and exciting outdoor theatre is UCB Campus!

5 comments:

Per Wijkman said...

Dear Emil,
Your magnificant blogg from graduation day at Berkeley brought tears to my eyes and smiles to my mouth. How wonderful and important it is to celebrate education! Such traditions, which have long ceased to be honoured in Europe, have survived in the United States. Some universities there still follow the custom, holding graduation speaches in Latin, but appropriately not the school of information at Berkeley. This usually impressed parents, especially when the speech was interrupted by the graduates' applause and laughter. Little did the parents know that the students had received handouts of the speeches in advance with indications (in Latin) to laugh here or applaud there. How nice to see that Annalee Saxenian is now dean at the school of information. She is the author of a classic study comparing Silicon Valley with Route 128 (the circumvential around Boston). Her conclusion was that Silicon Valley's relative success was, in short, due to better information dissemination within that community than what characterised Route 128. E. g., staff from different companies met after hours at various watering holes and talked shop and moved from a job in one company to a job in another. Along Route 128, companies discouraged employees to talk with the competition and moving from one company to another was considered a sign of infidelity. This hierarchical attitude is summed up in the popular saying that in Boston the Cabots speak only to Cabots and the Lodges only to God.

Per Magnus Wijkman said...

Dear Emil,
Your magnificant blogg from graduation day at Berkeley brought tears to my eyes and smiles to my mouth. How wonderful and important it is to celebrate education! Such traditions, which have long ceased to be honoured in Europe, have survived in the United States. Some universities there still follow the custom holding graduation speaches in Latin, but appropriately not the school of information at Berkeley. This usually impressed parents, especially when the speech was interrupted by the graduates' applause and laughter. Little did the parents know that the students had received handouts of the speeches in advance with indications (in Latin) to laugh here or applaud there. How nice to see that Annelee Saxenian is now dean at the school of information. She is the author of a classic study comparing Silicon Valley with Route 128 (the circumvential around Boston). Her conclusion was that Silicon Valley's relative success was, in short, due to better information dissemination within that community than what characterised Route 128. E. g. staff from different companies met after hours at various watering holes and talked shop and moved from a job in one company to a job in an other. Along Route 128, companies discouraged employees to talk with the competition and moving from one company to another was considered a sign of infidelity.This hierarchical attitude is summed up in the popular saying that in Boston the Cabots speak only to Cabots and the Lodges only to God.

Christina och Lars Jonung said...

Bästa Emil!

Så här i sista minuten vill vi skicka dig en hälsning för att tala om hur mycket vi uppskattat dina otroliga blogg-reseberättelser. Vi visste att du tog fantastiska bilder, men kände inte till dina litterära talanger! Att kunna skriva så livfullt, målande och fyllt av kultur som du gör och på ett språk som inte är modersmålet! Vi är fyllda av beundran (och avund!)!
Såväl bilder som text har många gånger fått oss att längta till Kalifornien. Och den dröm du nu genomfört att åka dit för en längre tid lockar verkligen till efterföljd. Du har i alla fall fått oss att drömma. Dessutom känns det ju som att Kaliforniens själ och hjärta ännu finns vid liv – trots alla ekonomiska problem som vi läser om i vardagslag.

Stort tack för att du på ett så fantastiskt sätt har delat med dig av dina erfarenheter! Välkommen åter till Europa!

Christina och Lars

Anno said...

Dear Emil,

Thanks for pointing me to your lovely coverage of graduation day on the Berkeley campus. I'm sharing the post with the rest of the I School community because your photos and narrative are brilliant, and because I like the comparisons with Europe. Many of us love the graduation--for its mix of tradition and celebration. I only wish you'd introduced yourself and we would have welcomed you to join us for a drink and sandwich.

I have one small correction to the post; the cafe on Telegraph is Peet's Coffee and Tea. This may seem a minor correction (your text says Peek's) but as you likely know, we take our coffee VERY seriously in Berkeley. Peet's is the original Berkeley cafe, and even the world-famous Starbucks was started by a former Peet's employee. Of course we believe that Peet's coffee is the best -- at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Cheers
Anno Saxenian

Emil Ems said...

Dear Per,
Thank you kindly for your, as always, interesting and pertinent remarks. They remind me, inter alia, about my own dissertation party, were I also - dare I say it? - held a small speech in the noble language of Cicero. Latin is not unfamiliar to me, having learned it for 8 years in highschool and been privileged in reading and speaking the language, whilst studying Roman Law in Vienna, back in the early 'sixties. But the dissertation was more than 25 years later, so I was nonetheless obliged, similar to the American students you mention, to get help, that is, to get a student of classical languages to help me out with the translation.

Furthermore, I am stupefied by your universal knowledge of all things, small and big; now you reveal yourself also as an expert in the field of information and innovation! AnnaLee must be pleased to have such a knowledgeable connoisseur and admirer of her work!

Dear AnnaLee,
I highly appreciated your remarks and feel honored by your praise. This encourages me to continue with my blogging exercises. Thank you also kindly for preventing me from making a major error. Peete's Café deserves to have its name correctly spelled; I will immediately correct my error in the main text.

Dear Christina and Lars,
How nice to meet yet another pair of old friends on this blog page. I am pleased to hear that you may follow my example and also spend some time in California, to reminisce about the good old times. All the praise I have received for the blog has encouraged me to keep on writing some more postings. So watch out for the sequels!