Twenty-two years ago, I never dreamed this day would come.
Not that Claire wasn’t always eager to learn. But when your hands are full with new twins, two decades seems like such a long time in the future.
But the years have flown by and this weekend finds us in Southern California for Claire’s graduation from Pomona College. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all flying here to leave our daughter on the west coast, at a school she obviously loved but that seemed so far away from home?
Pomona was recommended to Claire by Leonard King, her insightful and supportive high school teacher and college counselor at Maret, who had an amazing record of linking students with just the right college that offered the most chance for personal and intellectual growth. Claire and I first saw Pomona together on a spring break trip. When she decided to apply early decision and Candice was concerned about having her so far from home, I did what any take-charge father would do: I said to Candice, “You take her for a visit and then you tell her she can’t go!” (Clever, huh?) Candice – just like Claire and me – fell in love with the beautiful campus, the intellectual pursuits of the faculty and students, and the feeling of support and understanding that permeates the college.
Claire’s senior year began last August, after our memorable cross-country road trip, which could stand as a metaphor for the year ahead. Nine months later, here we are, celebrating the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Andrew – flying in from Boston – joined us on Thursday night (actually Friday morning, as his plane was late) so the three of us could be in attendance to celebrate our Claire. We began the packing of the dorm room on Friday morning, to get a jump on the work that no one really wants to undertake.
Claire has met the most amazing and thoughtful group of friends while at Pomona, and their generosity of spirit came through on Friday night. Claire and her suitemates joined two other suites to host a taco dinner for their families, as a way of saying “thank you.” While the (welcomed in drought-striken Southern California) rain drove the party indoors, it was a great time to reconnect with families and friends we’ve come to know over these four years – some from as close as Georgetown and others from throughout the world. That generosity continued on Saturday morning when one of Claire’s swim teammates – Hannah – and her family included us in their rooftop brunch to kick off the day of celebration.
It didn’t take us long to realize that we were going to eat our way through the graduation weekend. From the rooftop garden of Sontag Hall, we walked over to Lincoln Hall – and the amazing James Turrell Skyspace installation – for a luncheon with the Psychology majors and faculty.
Claire has loved her work in psychology with these amazing professors, and is excited to have a position in Los Angeles beginning in August with the Episcopal Urban Internship Program that will let her build on her study in real world applications.
One of the traditions at Pomona is that the incoming freshman class walks through the gates to the college, and the graduating seniors walk back out through those gates during graduation weekend. Led by a bagpiper, the class of 2015 celebrated as they walked through those gates and off to Class Day and dinner. We closed out the evening with a Glee Club concert in Little Bridges Music Hall that was wonderful. Andrew – our professional – was singing their praises through the rest of the weekend.
Sunday morning finally arrived, and – having scoped out the scene the day before – we arrived early to sit where we could see Claire in the procession and have a great view of the stage. Held on Marston Quadrangle in the middle of campus, graduation takes place beneath a shade canopy. Here’s an excerpt from the description in the program:
“The shade canopy above the graduates is the work of Los Angeles artists Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess and architectural designer Emily White. It was first installed for the Pomona 2009 College Commencement, with faculty, students, and staff helping to attach the streamers to the net. The shade structure is based on “Voronoi tessellaions,” algorithms of weaving and lace-making, coordinated with a solar incidence angle study that determines an optimum density pattern, allowing for shade where most needed, and keeping the canopy as lightweight and transparent as possible. The net’s lattice follows a pattern…derived from string figures, known as ‘clown’s collar.'”
Another Pomona tradition is the wearing of leis by many of the graduates. We had ordered two – one from our family and one from Claire’s Grandmother Colando – and Andrew and I met Claire on Sunday morning to help her prepare for the processional. While there, swim team coach Jean-Paul Gowdy – known to all as J.P. and a true mentor for Claire in her four years on the team – stopped by for a hug and congratulations.
Then we took our seats and it was time for the processional.
Claire has had multiple communities at Pomona – all of which have nurtured and helped her grow while she has contributed to their health and vitality. The swim team is one of the most important, and they were there throughout commencement. J.P. looked cool in his shades, while the team cheered loudly – and waved “Big Heads” – anytime a swim team senior received a diploma.
This was one of those ceremonies where the student speakers gave the featured commencement speaker a run for her money…they were that good. Of the four honorary degrees, we all agreed that the remarks by Michael Dickerson (’01), were not only the most humorous, but also the most insightful. Dickerson – the administrator of the newly created U.S. Digital Service in the White House – spoke about how his work at Google, with the Obama campaign, and as one of the chief “fixers” of HealthCare.gov was not part of any great plan. In fact, he said he “Wasn’t speaking to all those folks at the top of the program who were graduating with various honors and probably had their lives figured out, but to everyone else who didn’t have a clue as to what they would be doing tomorrow.” That spoke to not only a great many graduates, but also their families.
The Browns were also pleased to see that another of the honorary degrees went to Andrew Lewison Hoyem (’57), the founder of the Arion Press. When he was being introduced as someone who had been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Claire turned to her seatmate and said, “That’s where my dad works!”
Two hours into the ceremony, the college began handing out the degrees. And it was a wonderful celebration!
We cheered for Claire and her friends (both old and new), cried a bit (well, at least I did), and joined the new graduates on the quad for photos, photos, and more photos. (Yes, I was the official photographer of Claire Brown’s graduation.)
One of the first group of students Claire met her freshman year was the sponsor group from her dorm. These graduating seniors met on the steps of Little Bridges after the ceremony one last time for a photo and hugs. Of course the swim team seniors also gathered, with a large group of supporters there to cheer them on.
There are a number of Washington-area students at Pomona and the Claremont Colleges. One who Claire didn’t know until she arrived at Pomona is now her dear friend Ella Taranto. Of course, Andrew used to sing with Ella’s older sister at the National Cathedral, and the Taranto’s have multiple connections to friends of ours in the DC-area. And – no surprise here – both will be in Southern California come this fall.
Claire’s suitemates her Sophomore and Senior years have all become very special friends. Two – Jackie and Ali – were in her suite both years and are fellow swim team members. Kyra was in the sophomore group, and Susan joined the crew their senior year. These are all incredibly talented and wonderful young ladies, and our entire family’s life has been enriched by knowing them.
And the parents of these wonderful young ladies have also become friends, so we gathered for pictures – and a celebratory high-five.
Sunday’s celebration ended at Union on Yale, Claire’s favorite Claremont restaurant (since Claremont Craft Ales doesn’t technically count as a restautant!). We toasted the graduate, enjoyed oysters and other good food, and reflected on the past four wonderful years at Pomona College.
Andrew may have said it best on his Facebook post as he jumped on the red-eye back to Boston to begin his Senior Week celebrations.
“Today, I saw my twin sister and best friend graduate from Pomona College after four years of hard work, joys, challenges, and triumphs. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am to call you my sister. Congratulations, Claire! I love you.“
I can’t even begin to describe how proud Mom and I are to call you our daughter. Congratulations, and all our love.
More to come…
Image: Our Pomona Class of 2015 Graduate