The year I graduated, we were too tired from the morning exercises to hear Kofi Annan speak.
The next time I attended Harvard’s Commencement, I was one of the Harvard Chaplains, and we were seated up front on the main stage. I got to sit two rows behind JK Rowling!
The following year, I shook Meryl Streep’s hand and got to smile into her famous face.
But Harvard’s 360th Commencement in 2011 topped them all. Again, I was up front, so I got to watch it all unfold before my eyes. Placido Domingo received a standing ovation when he was named an honorary doctor of music. But then – right after Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was pronounced an honorary doctor of law – he jumped up and SANG HER AN IMPROMPTU MINI-OPERA!
Spontaneous, and utterly delightful.
We all stood up in ovation and applause once again. For Ginsburg, for Domingo, and for his humble humanity.
Originally written on 5.26.11 12:08 pm
I circled back to this post this morning wondering what the meaning of all of this was. Why did Placido Domingo’s honoring of Ruth Bader Ginsburg so significant?
In a world where we seek applause and recognition for our success, when we are actually honored for our work, it’s a special thing to be able to turn around in that moment and honor OTHERS.
I think of my younger sister who did this at her high school graduation ceremony. Because she was named valedictorian, she was given the honor of making an address. In her speech, she said many wonderful things. But years later, when we were reminiscing and trying to remember what it was that made that moment special — it was this: at the end of her speech, she flung wide her arms with a dramatic flourish to say something along the lines of, “I present to you the class of 2003 — a group of incredibly hard-working, talented people who are going to make this world a better place!” We all couldn’t remember what she said exactly, but no one could forget the huge smile on her face, her genuine pride not in herself but in these many others who had together graduated from high school — her joyful acknowledgment of everyone. It wasn’t about her — it was about all of them together.
Placido Domingo, honored guest, took that opportunity to give the honor to someone even more distinguished. May we all have that ability to rejoice in each other’s success!
1.12.12, 1 pm