Date May 25, 2023
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A celebratory weekend: Sights, sounds and stories from Commencement and Reunion 2023

Packed with graduation ceremonies, alumni reunions and other celebrations, the weekend offers countless chances for graduates, alumni, parents, friends and guests to honor accomplishments and reunite.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University’s first Commencement was held in 1769 — and since 1928, the annual celebration of new graduates has been accompanied by the return of alumni from across many generations for class reunions hosted during the same weekend.

That all adds up to a busy celebratory weekend. In 2023, more than 15,000 people will participate in events ranging from Campus Dance and Bruno’s Block Party to forums, graduation ceremonies and the one-of-a-kind Commencement procession through the Van Wickle Gates.

Here, Brown's communications team will do its best to keep up with the wealth of activities on campus and share a few sights, sounds and stories from throughout the weekend.

Video highlights from Sunday

From a spirited procession and senior orations to unscripted moments and the official conferral of degrees, the final day of Brown’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend 2023 was as exciting as the first two. Highlights are here courtesy of video producers Stephen Crocker and Oliver Scampoli.

Gina Raimondo calls on Class of 2023 to ‘make our democracy stronger’

In brief, unscripted remarks during the University Ceremony on Sunday, honorary degree recipient Gina Raimondo — current U.S. secretary of commerce and former Rhode Island governor — noted the impact of Brown and its graduates locally and implored the Class of 2023 to put their talents to work in the Ocean State, regardless of their geographic origins.

Do you want to start a business, she asked graduates? Become a doctor? Be an entrepreneur? Run for office? Do so nearby, she urged.

“I have always thought that Rhode Island — this tiny, but mighty state — is so lucky to have Brown University…” Raimondo said. “And I hope you’ve come to love this fabulous, edgy, culturally diverse city called Providence. It’s a fantastic place. You know, you can’t all go to New York or San Francisco. Some of you ought to stick around, stay here and contribute to Rhode Island. And if you do, it’ll be a better place.”

Her second request for new graduates? Strongly consider a role, however modest, in public service. The country faces major issues, she noted, including income inequality, a deeply challenged health care system and threats to democracy. But they can all be solved when people pitch in and work together.

“Even if you don’t think about public service, you have the talent, the ambition and the ideas to make our democracy stronger, to make our country better, and to realize the equality that this country should promise to all,” Raimondo said. “So congratulations and thank you for this great honor.”

Read the full story on the News from Brown website...

Brown confers six honorary doctorates

At its 255th Commencement on Sunday, May 28, Brown University conferred honorary doctorates on six candidates who have achieved great distinction in a variety of fields. The recipients included:

  • Douglas W. Diamond — Nobel Laureate and economist
  • Elaine G. Luria — U.S. Navy veteran and legislative leader
  • Bernicestine Elizabeth McLeod Bailey — IT leader and Pembroke Center champion
  • Kevin Mundt — Business leader and Brown Athletics champion
  • Ruth Oppenheim — Holocaust survivor and educator
  • Gina Raimondo — U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Fellows of the Corporation of Brown University. They were conferred by University President Christina H. Paxson during Commencement exercises. The text from the honorary degree citations read aloud during the ceremony and presented to each recipient is included on the News from Brown website. Biographical notes are included in the University’s announcement of the 2023 recipients.

Question the straight path, then veer off of it

In their Commencement addresses atop College Hill, in front of thousands of family members, guests, friends and mentors gathered in the bright sunshine, senior orators Kailiang Fu and Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal celebrated the Class of 2023’s adaptability, resilience and hard work. Their addresses marked a time-honored Brown tradition of lifting student voices at Commencement.

Both speakers encouraged graduates to approach life after Brown with an open mind, a willingness to fail and with their Brunonian values held close.

Fu said he learned to let go of the fear of failure in a Brown class that taught the concept of “fault tolerance,” a system’s ability to continue operating even if one or more of its components fails.

“Brown encourages failures on the journey of exploration,” Fu said. “By reducing the cost of trials and errors, Brown alleviates our fear of failure. It encourages us to take risks in the pursuit of something rewarding.”

Micaletti-Hinojal wove humor into an address that distilled the key ingredients of living and learning joyfully — one of which is the willingness to peel off the paths most frequently traveled.

“As we leave the Brown bubble, it’s easy to get caught up in what we’re supposed to do: Work, grad school, work, family, work, retirement,” Micaletti-Hinojal said. “Let’s not forget to continue exploring, to try new things, to question the straight path and then veer off of it. It’s easier to quit than to start, so start now — you can always quit later.”

Read the full story on the News from Brown website...

‘Never forget that your humanity is your greatest asset…’

The year 1776 marked not only the nation’s Declaration of Independence, but the first Commencement for what is now known as Brown University to take place at the First Baptist Church in America, on Providence’s North Main Street.

It’s safe to say that none of that day’s speakers offered an inspirational speech authored by ChatGPT.

Yet 247 years later, that’s precisely what University President Christina H. Paxson delivered when she stepped to the podium on the hallowed grounds of the same church to address students earning bachelor’s degrees in Brown’s Class of 2023. Her speech was “complete drivel,” Paxson admitted — “boring, bland and completely forgettable.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t her real address.

Paxson had asked the ubiquitous AI bot to compose a 1,000-word inspirational speech for a university president to give to graduating seniors. She read 92 words of predictable and cliché sentiments, paused abruptly and made her point: The computer-generated speech was, worse than anything else, inauthentic.

“Perhaps I could have improved it, by asking ChatGPT to include references to Providence, the Open Curriculum, or to how Brown students are the architects of their own educations…” she said of the ChatGPT version. “But it wouldn’t have reflected anything about this graduating class or the experiences we’ve shared over the past four years. It would convey nothing about how I genuinely feel about all of you.”

Paxson’s remarks came during the College Ceremony on Sunday. This year’s 1,682 seniors had processed through the Van Wickle Gates and down College Street through a raucous welcome from Brown alumni. At the First Baptist Church, they gathered on the lawn, took in the president’s advice and then turned their tassels to the left as their bachelor’s degrees were officially conferred.

Read the full story on the News from Brown website...

Capturing the moment, during Brown’s departmental ceremonies

For many families, the more intimate academic department ceremonies that follow Brown’s major Commencement events provide the picture-perfect moment of hearing the name of their graduating student called and seeing them walk across the stage. As they waited in the Sayles Hall auditorium for Summer Goldstein’s turn — phones and cameras in hand to capture the memory — Goldstein’s family, including her mother, Sundi, and her aunt, Maylin Harter, couldn’t help but reflect on what they were feeling.

“We've had a lot of full social circle moments over the course of the past few days,” said Sundi Goldstein, who is from Princeton, New Jersey. “I’m thinking of all the things that happened during our first weekends here during Orientation or A Day on College Hill, including being in this room before she was even a student. It's giving me the chills to be back here to see her with a graduation cap on.”

For Harter, an English teacher, the moment was too grand for the word special, especially since Goldstein concentrated in English. “It’s just really fantastic to have watched her grow up,” she said. “To see her have the same sort of love that I have for all things books and words, it’s something that I've been able to share with her her whole life.”

When Goldstein’s name was ultimately called, the family stood and let out a proud cheer. “This is the moment!” Goldstein’s mother said.

Celebrating it all, from failures to friendships

When neuroscience Ph.D. graduate Nadira Yusif Rodriguez went to the Brown Bookstore to pick up her cap and gown, she almost cried.

“I defended my dissertation in December,” Rodriguez said as she waited to walk through the Van Wickle Gates in Brown’s Commencement procession on Sunday morning. “But until I went to pick up the cap and gown, it didn’t feel real. Now, today, it’s real. I’m really a doctor.”

Yusif Rodriguez’s journey toward her doctorate was challenging, as it is for many. She moved to Providence from Puerto Rico, never having studied in mainland United States before. In her first year at Brown, Yusif Rodriguez juggled lab work and intensive courses — bonding with classmates when, on the morning after the 2016 election, they all felt so tired and overwhelmed that they flunked an important midterm. (“We all survived, somehow,” she said, smiling.)

Then came several demanding years of research on magnetic resonance imaging, for which there was no instruction manual.

“That’s the thing with Ph.D. research: You’re not just doing an experiment you can find in a science cookbook,” she said. “You actually have to come up with new knowledge. You can ask around for advice and help, but nobody has all the answers. You’re expected to be the person who has the answers at the end.”

The doctoral grad doesn’t have all the answers — yet. For now, she’s headed to Massachusetts General Hospital for a postdoctoral research appointment, where she’ll continue to study brain imaging. She hopes to become a tenure-track professor someday.

“If I had to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything,” Yusif Rodriguez said — not even that midterm grade. “The people in my cohort, the people who have mentored me… these are the types of people you only meet once in your life.”

Cheering on the last and next generations of Brown alumni

One of the most cherished Brown traditions during Commencement and Reunion Weekend is alumni lining the edges of College Street on route to the First Baptist Church to cheer on fellow alums and new graduates. The scene is a raucous show of support, good-natured fun and is integral to what makes Brown Commencements so special. 

“Yeah ’88!” screamed an alumnus as members the Class of 1988 danced their way down College Street waving small flags with the school logo on them. “You guys rock!” shouted another.

Further down the street, members from the Classes of 2008 and 2003 took part in some friendly ribbing. Each time folks from the Class of 2008 shouted “Oh-eight!” alumni from 2003 shouted “Oh-three!” right back at them.

As loud as the cheering got, things got even more jubilant when the Class of 2023 processed. Each previous class took turns cheering on the new generation of Brunonians as they passed — many giving out high fives, handshakes and hugs to graduates they knew, but also to those they didn’t. Regardless of their year, they are all now Brown alumni, said John Vassalotti, a member of the Class of 2003.

“You're welcoming them, you’re saying I know what it takes to do what they did,” Vassalotti said. “The whole scene is a fascinating exchange of energy that happens across generations.”

Waiting for their turn (again)

Brown’s Van Wickle Gates famously open on just two occasions — when students begin their studies, and when they finish. Put another way, it means every opportunity to process through the gates is special — both for alumni who have been part of the Commencement and Reunion Weekend procession a few times, and those who can’t instantly recall how many times they’ve taken part in the tradition.

Lining up under a tree on George Street with fellow members from the Class of 2013, India Eaford, here for her 10th year reunion, says each time she gets to process through the gates she feels a wave of excitement running through her as she sees all the love and support.

“It’s such a celebration,” Eaford said. “Brown has one of the best communities that I have seen across academic institutions that I've been a part of, with everyone coming together to celebrate and reunite and go over everything that has happened in our lives... but also to celebrate new graduates and all their accomplishments.”

Across the street, married couple Paul Hanau and Valerie Underwood, both members of the Class of 1975, said what makes the 2023 procession special is that it marked their first time processing right next to each other. The pair met in 1972 in Wayland House and looked forward to passing through the gates for the first time arm in arm.

Wayne Gulston, a member of the Class of 1978, has lost count how many times he’s been part of the procession. He’s makes the trip down from New York City every five years for reunion. “I told my classmates that if I'm not here, I'm not here anymore,” Gulston said.

Surrounded by people taking selfies and reuniting with old friends, Gulston agreed that each procession he’s been part of has been special. Asked why, he simply said: “Because we’re on this campus.”

From Nebraska to Providence, keeping a promise

When Grace Skavdahl left for Brown, her high school English teacher, Dashiell Rohan, promised her that when she graduated, he’d come to Providence to see it. Four years later, Rohan, who teaches at Sioux County High School in Harrison, Nebraska, made good on that promise.

“I told her that if she did it, I would be here,” said Rohan, who made the nearly 2,000-mile journey to see Skavdahl earn her degree. “So, here I am. I'm proud of her, I'm proud of the things that she did.”

For Rohan, it was more than just keeping his word to a former student — like so many of the guests who come to Commencement — it was about showing that no matter what, Skavdahl, who concentrated in English, will always have not only his support, but the support of her community as well.

“There’s a lot of pride in the fact that as just a little public high school out in the middle of nowhere with only 36 students, that we can have somebody who is an honors graduate from a university like this,” Rohan said. “It’s a definite accomplishment [for her and us].”

A ‘mama’s boy’ celebrates his journey to the gates

As he stood in line with more than 1,600 fellow graduating seniors, waiting impatiently to take part in Brown’s storied Commencement procession, Malcolm Brunson couldn’t help but wonder: Is this tradition worth the wait?

“We were waiting for 45 minutes [thinking], ‘What’s taking so long? What’s the hype?’” Brunson said. 

But the graduate changed his tune the moment he stepped through the College and Quiet greens, under the University seal decorating the Van Wickle Gates and down College Street, where thousands of alumni and family members lined the path to cheer him on: “You walk down there, and it’s like, you just feel on top of the world — like all your work, finally, has paid off. All the late nights. It makes you get a little emotional.”

Brunson, who plans to work as an analyst at Deloitte in New York City, sported a mortarboard emblazoned with the words “Mama’s Boy.” 

Growing up in New Jersey, Brunson said, he watched his mom juggle three jobs as a night-shift nurse to support herself and her only son. When Brunson earned top grades and a high SAT score, he decided to shoot for the moon, applying to some of the nation’s most competitive schools. A linebacker on Brown’s football team, he originally committed to playing football at a historically Black institution — but when he visited Brown with his mom, she urged him to attend.

“To think about where I started from — being here, I could never have imagined it,” Brunson said. “It was a little bit of a culture shock, but I’m happy I did it. I really pushed myself to go out and explore and meet new people and open my mind.”

‘You are the pioneers who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge…’

Discovery, frustration, collaboration, isolation and breakthroughs were all aspects of the journey toward a doctoral degree, a years-long “roller-coaster” experience that student speaker Kathryn Thompson said she struggled to summarize as she prepared to address her 246 fellow doctoral degree recipients.

In the end, she concluded, the most apt description of earning a Ph.D. is a journey of self-discovery: “Through your research, you have not only contributed to the collective knowledge of your field, but you have also learned more about yourself — your strengths, your weaknesses and most importantly, your passions.”

As she addressed her class during the Doctoral Ceremony on Pembroke Field on Sunday morning, Thompson lauded her classmates for their years of dedicated scholarship, persistence and self-discovery. She praised the network of support they relied upon that “propelled us towards this pinnacle of academic achievement.”

Thompson, whose degree is in health services research, honored the Brown trailblazers who paved the way for the Class of 2023 — including Martha Tarbell, the first woman to earn a doctoral degree, in 1897; Samuel M. Nabrit, the first Black man to earn a Ph.D., in 1932; and Mae Belle Williamson Simmons, the first Black woman to earn her doctorate, in 1962.

While celebrating those legacies, Thompson encouraged graduating students to embrace their own place in the University’s history and harness the “power to help others understand the importance of rigorous inquiry and intellectual curiosity” as they graduate and share their passion with the world.

“As you leave this chapter of your life behind, remember that you are not just receiving a degree, but you are also creating history,” Thompson said. “You are now the history.

“You are the pioneers who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and paving the way for future generations.”

Master’s Ceremony: ‘Strike fear into the hearts of complacency and silence’

In an address to fellow graduates filling the stands of Meehan Auditorium on Sunday morning, Hamidou Sylla opened with a summary of the historical role enslaved laborers played in Brown’s past, drawing direct lines to the Class of 2023’s future.

“Every time I walk past [University Hall], I can’t help but place my hands on those walls, knowing that an enslaved Black African a couple of generations removed from me laid the bricks and the very foundation of the institution that I attend and earn my degree from today,” said Sylla, a master of public affairs graduate who emigrated from Guinea to the U.S. as a child.

But instead of drowning in that past, Sylla said — paraphrasing the literary great James Baldwin — graduates have the responsibility to learn from it and leverage the power of their Brown education to oppose injustice: “We are on this Earth but for a period of time. As such, how we choose to spend our time matters,” Sylla said. “For we are the products of our ancestors’ prayers and sacrifices.”

The possibilities that will shape their journeys ahead are as varied as the 886 students who earned master’s degrees on Sunday — and Sylla urged them to reflect on history’s lessons to inform whatever future they pursue.

“Where justice is denied, strike fear into the hearts of complacency and silence,” he said. “Where poverty is enforced, put on the cloths of equity. Where ignorance prevails, be the voice of reason. And where any one group or class of people is made to feel like society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, use your education to calm their doubts and embrace them with kindness.”

Sylla was selected by the Graduate Student Council to speak during the Master’s Ceremony, over which School of Professional Studies Dean Shankar Prasad presided.

No newly minted Brown M.D. goes unrecognized

John Johnson may have been chosen by his peers to speak at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School Ceremony — but he was intent on sharing the spotlight with fellow graduates and new physicians.

In his remarks, the Mississippi native surprised six classmates by sharing stories of when they’d inspired him “to be a better doctor and — more importantly — to be a better person.” He thanked friends he’d known since they were undergraduates together at Tougaloo College as well as classmates he’d admired from afar, praising their personal attributes and skills as physicians. He encouraged all graduates to continue to be role models, even as they deepened their own knowledge and practice of medicine.

Although Johnson said he had tributes for every one of the 134 students earning their M.D.s on Sunday, there were other items on the program, including an address by Warren Alpert Medical School alumnus Dr. Steven Rougas, who now directs the school’s doctoring program. Each of the 2023 graduates also recited the Physician’s Oath and received a ceremonial green hood.

Johnson likely spoke for many when he said he felt prepared to graduate medical school but not yet ready to leave the company of the people who had enriched his time in Providence. He shared with his soon-to-be-former classmates his wishes as they prepared to start medical residencies in clinical settings across the country.

“To be knowledgeable enough to lead, but modest enough to be led,” he said. “To be confident enough to speak, but thoughtful enough to listen. To be selfless enough to be there for others, but introspective enough to be there for ourselves. To be proud enough to maintain our character, but humble enough to grow.”

In short, Johnson said: “I hope that we become even more so of who we already are.”

A regalia expert retires

Ginie Callas still remembers the moment when, in 1978, she was first tasked with helping Brown’s honorary degree recipients into their Commencement regalia.

“My friend was the secretary for the director of special events at Brown, and she said, ‘Would you mind coming to help? It gets pretty frantic sometimes,’” Callas said. “I went in and she said, ‘Do this, do that, get the [honorary degree] robes, I’m sure you know what you’re doing’ — and that was that.”

Callas attended the women-only Pembroke College — which later merged with the men’s College at Brown — graduating in 1948. After a brief stint at the Providence Journal, she took a job in the University’s housing office, where she ultimately received the fateful call from her friend and colleague.

Forty-five years later, the nonagenarian still wakes up at dawn on Commencement Day to robe royalty, philanthropists, former presidents, accomplished leaders, award-winning artists and other dignitaries who participate in Brown’s joyful procession and accept honorary degrees at the University Ceremony.

“My favorite was obviously Robert Redford,” Callas said. “He’s so delightful, very shy and unassuming. These important people fascinate me because of the way they’re unpretentious at that moment. They ask for your help; they ask for advice; sometimes they’re nervous.”

On the eve of her 75th class reunion this year, Callas shared that this would be her final year robing Brown’s honorees. But she doubts this Sunday’s trip to Brown will be her last. She’s a religious Reunion attendee, and she still bonds with old Pembroke friends and former Brown colleagues over lunch.

“I keep coming back to Brown — it just pulls me in,” she said.

Video highlights from Friday and Saturday

From class reunions to Campus Dance to forums, block parties and the Baccalaureate, the first two days of Brown’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend 2023 have been action-packed. Highlights are here courtesy of video producers Stephen Crocker and Oliver Scampoli.

An opportunity to rejoice and reflect

The beat of Japanese Taiko and Malian drums. The reverberation of perfectly timed church bells, ringing to the march of some 1,682 graduating seniors processing down Waterman Street. The vibrations of stomps and applause resonating out the doors of the First Baptist Church in America.

You don’t need to know much about the Baccalaureate ceremony to know it’s a joyous occasion — you can feel it.

Rhythm was pervasive on Saturday, May 27, as Brown University’s Class of 2023 settled into pews on day two of Commencement and Reunion Weekend to take part in the Baccalaureate, a colorful multi-faith service with core elements that date to the University’s founding.

Nearly every component of the ceremony centered around thanksgiving, gratitude and the importance of giving back — themes that anchored the remarks of Baccalaureate speaker and Brown alumnus Carlos Lejnieks.

“I believe our future is bright, but it’s not bright inevitably,” Lejnieks told Brown’s soon-to-be graduates. “Our future requires a fight, a struggle and a constant level of investment… Our future requires people to make real the boldness of our claims.”

Read the full story on the News from Brown website...

Rhode Island food and fun at Bruno’s Block Party

Brown Class of 1993 graduates and friends Amy Leveroni, Roz Elliot and Kiza Brunner attend Commencement and Reunion Weekend every five years, when their class celebrates reunion.

“Five ‘til we die,” Leveroni joked. She heard the memorable catchphrase from fellow alumni at the last reunion she attended and has since adopted the mantra, too. “Most of our class comes right on the five-year cycle, and it’s great. Every time a reunion weekend ends, I say, ‘I can’t wait to come back again.’”

The classmates agree that the hallmark weekend events include Friday night’s Campus Dance and Sunday’s jubilant procession through the Van Wickle Gates. Still, the group enjoyed some sunshine and seafood at Bruno’s Block Party, a gathering held on Saturday at Brown Stadium as one of many celebratory events for alumni. Graduates from across the generations picnicked on blankets and camp chairs, snacked on savory and sweet treats from nearly a dozen food trucks, and tossed footballs and frisbees with friends.

Families with kids hopped along a row of activity tables that included temporary tattoos, a make-your-own jewelry station and coloring pages. One of the most popular activities was the traveling touch tank led by Mystic Aquarium staff, which featured spider crabs, sea urchins and a blue lobster.

The food trucks were a big hit for Leveroni, Elliot, Brunner and nearly 400 other guests who attended the block party. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches from Championship Melt, stuffed bread cones from Twisted T’s and Latin American comfort food from Espanglish Empanadas were among the most popular choices. But Elliot — who traveled from Milwaukee, Wisconsin — was set on a Rhode Island staple: a lobster roll from the Blount Clam Shack food truck.

“You must get your lobster when you’re out here,” Elliot said.

Forums offer alumni, grads, guests a window into Brown academic life

To add a spirit of discovery, debate and dialogue to the weekend’s ceremonies and celebrations, Brown featured 16 forums on Saturday, staying ever true to a Commencement tradition that originated more than a half century ago. Hundreds of visitors joined talks held in academic buildings across campus to hear faculty, alumni and distinguished guests share expertise and perspective on a variety of timely, relevant issues. Topics ranged from the state of bipartisanship in today’s political climate, to Black legacy and history at Brown, to physicians’ roles as patient advocates, among others.

At a forum titled “Heightened Alert: Securing the World from the Next Public Health Catastrophe,” Jennifer Nuzzo, professor of epidemiology and director of the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health, led a panel featuring two experts in biosecurity and pandemic preparedness — Wilmot James and Beth Cameron, both of whom serve as senior advisors to the Pandemic Center and Brown professors of the practice.

Nuzzo, James and Cameron reflected on the last three years of COVID-19 and assessed what worked, what didn’t and what the world can do better in preparation for future public health emergencies. Cameron said one clear takeaway is the need to better integrate the nation’s public health response with the everyday delivery model of the health care system.

“We developed vaccines and new treatments in record time, but we didn’t have the systems to get those out quickly,” she said. “We then built those systems, but it’s not clear if we’d be able to sustain them for the future.”

Surprise connections on a campus full of celebrations

Lillie Marshall came to celebrate her Class of 2003 reunion with her Brown roommate of four years, who’d traveled to Providence all the way from Hawaii. But that’s not who Marshall was sharing laughs and memories with at Friday night around 11 p.m. during Campus Dance on the College Green.

Marshall studied comparative literature as an undergraduate and wrote a daily cartoon for the Brown Daily Herald student newspaper. Marshall has kept her art alive since — she now runs, an educational cartoon website that uses her whimsical art to illustrate concepts, experiences and short stories.

Since 2003, Marshall has also been a public school English teacher. One of her teaching mentors in Boston was Thabiti Brown, who graduated from Brown in 1998 and is now head of a charter school in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Marshall had forgotten that he was a fellow Brunonian — until she ran into him unexpectedly at Campus Dance. They pair made a striking image: Marshall in a brightly colored rainbow tank dress that she’d designed herself; Brown in a dapper suit, both talking animatedly as they caught up. 

Marshall was surprised to see her old friend, although she admitted that she shouldn’t have been: “I forget that so many of the great people in my life also went to Brown!” she said.

At Campus Dance, celebrating in good company

Many Brown alumni come to the rollicking outdoor bash that is Friday night’s Campus Dance with their own mini-party. For example, Class of 2005 graduate Kevin Ferrone coordinated with a group of classmates and friends from New York and Massachusetts who stayed in a block of rooms in Brown’s residence halls. Some donned matching caps, which were fan swag for their friends in the alumni band Lush, who put on a rocking show on Simmons Quad. Around his Lush cap, Ferrone wore a fabric headband with little brown puffs, which looked an awful lot like Bruno’s ears — even though he insisted that was just coincidence.

Although Ferrone came to the dance with friends, he knew he’d see, or meet, more from among the many thousands of alumni and recent graduates. “That’s what makes Brown so special,” Ferrone said, with warmth. “You just show up and walk around, and people invite you to their party.”

Cameron Keegan feels the same way about his fellow Brunonians. Keegan, who graduated from Brown in 2018 and now lives in Seattle, arrived solo, ready to “soak up the scene and see who’s around.” Keegan was embracing the freedom of not having a meet-up schedule, he said.

“There are so many beautiful friends here,” Keegan said, confident he’d connect with many by the night’s end. Soon enough, he ran into Anthony DeRita, a fellow Class of 2018 graduate he knew through mutual friends. DeRita, who’d traveled from Brooklyn, had the same non-plan.

Chatting with two other members of the Class of 2018, from Michigan and Connecticut, Keegan and DeRita talked about continuing to take an improvisational approach to the rest of Commencement and Reunion Weekend.

“I’m just going to do a trust fall into Brown’s campus,” DeRita said with a laugh, knowing he was in good company.

Siblings toast with their extended Warren Alpert Medical School family

Brown’s renowned Program in Liberal Medical Education draws students from across the world who are attracted to the idea of exploring the depths of the Open Curriculum before attending Brown’s medical school.

In some cases, those students even come from the same family. Case in point: three Delamerced siblings from Ohio, each of whom journeyed to Providence to enroll as PLME students.

The siblings spoke at the University’s 50 Years of Medicine grand finale on Friday evening, which concluded 15 months celebrating the evolution of medical education at Brown. Hundreds of members of the Warren Alpert Medical School community gathered to recognize and celebrate Brown's history in medicine and look toward the decades to come.

The event was held at Innovation Park, a grassy expanse near the Providence River, steps away from the medical school and a growing array of nearby Brown life sciences facilities. Situated between the medical school’s past (on College Hill) and present and future (in the Jewelry District), the site served as a fitting location for what President Christina H. Paxson called a “pivot time” for the medical school, during which community members shared memories as well as a toast to future aspirations.

In reminiscing on their time as PLME students, the Delamerced siblings praised the program for offering the flexibility to pursue their passions. Tino Delamerced, a Class of 2018 graduate who will receive his M.D. on Sunday, honed his writing and communication skills, finished his thesis and studied archaeology during a semester in London. Anna Delamerced, a Class of 2016 and M.D. 2017 graduate who is now a pediatrics resident at Yale, pursued poetry and writing and studied abroad in Scotland. Youngest sibling Joseph, who earned his bachelor’s degree as a PLME in 2022, volunteered with non-profit organizations and was active in faith communities.

“We’re very grateful to the PLME and all the mentors we met through this program for fostering our passions and emphasizing the importance of the liberal arts and humanities,” Anna said, naming one of the hallmarks of earning an M.D. from Brown. “This makes us better and more well-rounded physicians.”

Soon, the story of the Delamerceds at Brown will start a new chapter: Joseph will begin medical school in the fall.

For decades, this family has cherished Brown’s reunion celebrations

For Barbara Carucci Vendetti, preparing for Commencement and Reunion Weekend involves much more than booking travel accommodations and packing essentials. At age 91, the Class of 1953 Brown graduate instead focuses on keeping an active fitness regime to ensure she’ll stride through Sunday’s procession in her white platform sneakers with endurance and strength.

“I’ve been exercising so I can do the walk down College Street,” she said.

The retired elementary school art teacher flew into Providence from her home in Fernandina Beach, Florida, to join her daughter, Elizabeth Vendetti, a Class of 1978 graduate, for weekend festivities.

Attending the reunion celebration nearly every five years is a family affair, said Elizabeth Vendetti, who graduated from Brown the same year her mother marked her 25th reunion. This year is Carucci Vendetti’s first attending without her husband, who died in 2021.

“We’ve always attended reunions together,” Elizabeth Vendetti said. “She and my father would make their travel plan, and I would come with my friends, and we’d meet up at Campus Dance. The last two times we did the processional march, we’d find and hug each other — it was really special.”

When Elizabeth Vendetti considered schools as a teenager — the family lived in Chicago then — she imagined herself studying at the University of Illinois. But Barbara was adamant that Elizabeth also apply to Brown, the place that sparked her love of learning and near-constant intellectual curiosity.

“I love this place,” Carucci Vendetti said. “It was the beginning of a lifelong enjoyment of the life of the mind, which has kept me positive my whole life.”

A salute to Brown’s ROTC graduates and student-veterans

As she stood on stage at this year’s Graduating Veterans and ROTC Recognition Ceremony, Raquel Ruiter was hit with an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. Holding up her right hand as she took the officer’s oath and then as she received her ceremonial first salute from U.S. Army veteran Brehan Brady, a fellow member of Brown’s Class of 2023, Ruiter pictured everything it took to get there — the physical training, the academic work and, most of all, the unwavering support she received from her family.

“It was just a moment of absolute awe,” said Ruiter, a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps participant who on Sunday, May 28, will become the first female Air Force officer in recorded history to graduate from Brown. “Everything just came together.”

Now a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, Ruiter will head to the Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts to begin work as an intelligence officer while also pursuing a civilian career within the defense sector. As Ruiter looks toward the future, she leaves knowing the next female Air Force ROTC cadets from Brown won’t be far behind.

“More than half of our students in Brown’s Air Force ROTC program are now women,” she said. “I’m the first of many to follow.”

Also recognized at the annual Commencement Weekend event were 17 graduating student-veterans who served as members of the U.S. Armed Forces and four additional ROTC cadets, all of whom are now U.S. Army officers. The ceremony took place in Metcalf Research Building, where a crowd of family, friends, special guests and elected officials filled the auditorium to celebrate Brown’s military community. Afterward, students and their guests took in the moment with selfies, hugs and non-stop laughs.

“It’s all a culmination,” said a smiling Robert C. Murray, a graduating U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former president of Brown’s Student Veterans Society. “It’s a big moment for all of us.”

‘I will always feel welcome at Brown’

For many Brown alumni, Commencement and Reunion Weekend isn’t just a chance to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. It’s also a chance for Brunonians from different classes to meet and connect.

On Friday afternoon inside Maddock Alumni Center, first-year Brown student Ruth Ukubay bonded with Class of 1968 graduate Stan Griffith when the pair found out they’d lived in the same residence hall on Keeney Quad, formerly known as West Quad.

“It used to be a party house!” Griffith joked; Ukubay marveled at how “so many things at Brown are still the same.”

Griffith recalled joining fellow students in a University Hall sit-in staged in opposition to South Africa’s Apartheid regime. Years later in the 1980s, Griffith said with pride, student demonstrations played a role in spurring a Brown Corporation vote to divest from companies doing business in South Africa.

It was that tradition of social consciousness that led Bee Davis to Brown more than 50 years later. At a reception inside the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender on Friday, the 2020 master’s degree graduate recalled forming an anti-Black racism coalition with fellow students in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and numerous others. Davis said that juggling parenthood and a master’s program in engineering was a rigorous but fulfilling experience.

“It was intense, but I did it,” Davis said. “There were some challenges, for sure, but equally, there were so many supportive people here. I will always feel welcome at Brown.”

Reminiscing and reuniting on Wriston Quad

For most Brown alumni, Commencement and Reunion Weekend begins on Wriston Quad. On Friday, thousands of former students gathered to check in, collect commemorative class buttons and plan out the next three days.

Inside the check-in tent, 1983 graduates Lisha and Leroy Cole were gearing up to reunite with a long list of old classmates during the weekend — and to get reacquainted with Providence from the seats of their bicycles.

“There’s a lot here now that wasn’t here when we were students — the river, for one,” Leroy Cole said, laughing: The city uncovered large swaths of downtown Providence’s rivers in the mid-1980s.

The pair met by chance the summer before their first year at Brown, while working at a bank in Brooklyn. They “hit it off as friends right away,” said Lisha Cole, who also earned an executive MBA from Brown in 2013. They eventually became a couple “after a lot of begging on his part.” They’ll celebrate 36 years of marriage in October.

Like the Coles, 1987 graduate Eric Dobson remembers when Providence’s rivers were paved over. In the midst of city talks to uncover the water, he saved a copy of the Providence Journal featuring an article titled, “Providence: The Venice of America?” — part of an independent research project that later became a slideshow introducing incoming students to the city.

Dobson, an urban planner in the Washington, D.C., area, later donated that newspaper and more clippings to Brown’s urban studies program, where he was once a student.

“The Open Curriculum was fantastic for me,” Dobson said. “I started at Brown as an applied math concentrator, but I was taking classes in everything. When I was a sophomore, I met a senior who was in almost all of my classes. He said he was concentrating in urban studies, and I thought — ‘Oh, is that what I should be studying? Great.’”

The graduate’s father, Stan Dobson, a Class of 1958 graduate, has attended more Commencement and Reunion Weekends than he can count. Every five years, he inches closer to the front of the Sunday procession — which customarily begins with University leaders and the oldest alumni in attendance.

“When I get to the front of the line, I’m going to jog down College Street,” Stan Dobson said. “I’m not a jogger, so that should grab people’s attention.”

Remembering a trailblazing Brown scholar

As he walked across Brown’s Quiet Green with his twin daughters, possibly in the very same footsteps his late mother once trod, Michael Simmons reflected on the significance for his family of this year’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend.

Simmons, along with 11-year-olds Claire and Elisabeth, journeyed from San Francisco to Providence to attend Commencement, where they will be presented with a plaque during the Doctoral Ceremony in honor of Mae Belle Williamson Simmons, the earliest known Black woman to earn her doctoral degree from Brown. The 1962 psychology Ph.D. graduate was a trailblazing Providence native whose lasting impact as a researcher in the field of child psychology belied a life and career that were cut short by cancer when Michael was barely 2.

“People are forgotten after a while, so it’s nice that she’s remembered — and remembered for her contributions,” Simmons said as he and his daughters were guided on a tour of campus on Friday afternoon by graduating senior Emma Giventer-Braff, a student ambassador with the Office of College Admission.

Last fall, the Graduate School at Brown renamed its diversity fellowships in honor of Mae Williamson Simmons, who also earned her bachelor’s degree from Brown in psychology in 1949. The tribute to her during the Doctoral Ceremony on Sunday will bring that recognition full circle, Simmons said.

“For me, it’s incredibly exciting to be here at Brown with my daughters, and to honor my mom,” he said.

‘There’s a family feeling for this school…’

Ahead of Commencement and Reunion Weekend, more than 4,300 Brown alumni from across the generations are prepping for trips to College Hill to take part in the revelry. Some will travel from thousands of miles away — others, like Class of 1978 graduate Marc Siegel, have a shorter journey ahead.

Siegel, a writer and clinical professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, isn’t just traveling from New York to Providence to connect with old friends. He’s also planning to represent his class as a marshal, donning a top hat and tails and for the storied Sunday procession through the Van Wickle Gates.

“I love the procession, because it shows the continuity of generations,” Siegel said. “You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t think Brown has changed very much. It’s still a place where you can take a course in any subject you want, develop a personal relationship with your professors, get inspired and feel that you’re in this wonderfully supportive, loving environment.”

In addition to serving as a class marshal, Siegel will play the role of proud dad: His “powerhouse” daughter, Rebecca Siegel, will step through the gates Sunday as a Class of 2023 graduate. This summer, she’ll travel to Bologna, Italy, for an immersive semester of study; after that, Marc Siegel said, she has plans to attend medical school.

“My family loves that Brown is a very creative place with a deep investment in undergraduate education,” Siegel said. “There’s a family feeling for this school.”

The family affinity goes back further than Siegel himself. His father, Bernard Leon Siegel, another Brown graduate and a retired aeronautics engineer, turns 100 this year: “My father used to wear his Brown sweatshirt and sing the alma mater to me,” Siegel said. “No wonder I love Brown.”

Celebrating four years of friendship

Late in the summer of 2019, five strangers from three different countries united at International Orientation on Brown’s campus and quickly bonded with each other: Melissa Zhang and Sheridan Feucht from Canada; Zack Cheng and Aaron Jeyaraj from Singapore; and Momoka Kobayashi from Japan.

Nearly four years later — and after deepening their bond through countless late-night study sessions and shared meals “at the Ratty and V-Dub,” the nicknames for Sharpe Refectory and the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, respectively — the group reassembled, along with two of their other first-year friends, Derick Toth and Rafe Erdley.

Six days before they were all set to walk through the Van Wickle Gates to culminate their undergraduate journeys at Brown, the friends huddled at the edge of the Quiet Green, donned their regalia, posed for photos, tossed their caps in the air and laughed.

“We met during the orientation, and we stuck with each other ever since,” Kobayashi said.

Pausing briefly from the revelry on their way to the gates, they stopped outside the Jameson-Mead residence hall on Keeney Quadrangle to visit a tree planted in honor of their friend and former classmate Milan Samardjiski, from Macedonia, who died in 2020.

“We wanted to take a picture with the memorial tree,” Jeyaraj said. Then he added, “I left my [graduation] cap on the tree accidentally.” Perhaps an additional testament to enduring friendships.

A week of activity, from preparations to celebrations

Activities, preparations and celebrations abounded as campus geared up for Commencement and Reunion Weekend 2023.

From celebrations hosted by departments, centers and schools, to nearly 20 festive events that comprised Senior Week 2023 organized by the student-run Class Coordinating Board, graduating students enjoyed time with each other in advance of the big weekend. This slideshow captures some of those moments. Photos by Nick Dentamaro.

An economic boom for local businesses

Brown’s three-day Commencement and Reunion Weekend is a joyous and memorable occasion for graduates, families, friends, alumni and the entire Brown community. And the celebrations can be monumental for others, too — including many business owners in Providence and other Rhode Island cities and towns.

For floral decorations, Brown relies on Studio 539 Flowers in Providence’s Fox Point. Owner Matthew Bellotti started working with the University more than 15 years ago, supplying one or two simple arrangements for speaker events throughout the year. In recent years, he's grown his business with Brown from delivering up to a few dozen orders during the event-packed spring semester, an increase he attributes to word of mouth among different offices and departments on Brown’s campus. In April, he produced arrangements to support more than 15 events on campus. In preparation for Commencement, he has hired several additional freelance floral designers to meet Brown's demand for flowers — a surge in business he compares to other busy floral holidays.

"In this business, our biggest days are usually holidays like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, and Brown, for us, has become a third holiday," Bellotti said. "Memorial Day weekend is just as busy as a major holiday because of the massive influx of people for Brown's graduation and all of its associated festivities."

Read the full story on the News from Brown website...

Bloom where you are planted

Excitement blossomed — quite literally — as preparations were underway across Brown’s campus during the week leading up to Commencement and Reunion Weekend 2023.

Among many other preparatory responsibilities, staff from Facilities Management planted more than 1,000 flowers — 463 red, pink and red-and-white geraniums, 250 impatiens and Angelonia, 120 Supertunia and salvia, and 20 flats of other flowering annuals — around the College Hill grounds and in flower boxes under ceremony tents to provide petals unfolding with color amid the celebrations.

Trowels in hand, grounds workers Robert Farizer and Ertugrul Kaya enjoyed conversing with each other while painstakingly planting 60 pink geraniums in the garden bed surrounding the Bronze Bruno statue on the College Green on Monday, May 22, before they headed to the Van Wickle Gates to plant flowers there.

“When it comes to Commencement, we all work together — together you accomplish more,” said Kaya, who is marking his second Commencement season at Brown. “I love that. It’s been great.”

Farizer, who is celebrating his 18th year helping to get the campus ready for Commencement, noted that the blossoms are even more special than meets the eye.

“Actually, Brown grows them, too,” he said.

A Commencement tradition, the 238 red geraniums were lovingly cultivated in the greenhouse atop the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society at 85 Waterman St. Prior to planting them, Farizer said, the grounds crew spent days busily weeding, edging and mulching the garden beds to make a home for the Commencement buds.