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Friday, November 12, 2010

My role as a distinguished guest

By Dick Hirsch

The program was already half over before I realized that I, too, was the right man in the right place at the right time. I’m not given to self-promotion or bragging, so I never would have reported this rather cosmic experience unless I felt it had some news value.

The scene was the recent inauguration of Aaron Podolefsky as the new president of Buffalo State College. It was an exciting day, with the campus bedecked with banners, music playing, students greeting visitors, and the Rockwell Hall Auditorium filled to capacity for the ceremony, installing just the eighth president in the college’s history. The audience included presidents and officials of other colleges and universities, Buffalo State administrators, faculty and students, as well as other distinguished guests.

I was one of those distinguished guests. I believe it was the first time I ever fell into that category, and, I must admit it was a very satisfying status.

I was an official delegate to the inauguration, representing my alma mater. There were nearly 50 colleges and universities that sent delegates to the event. I’ll describe my duties in a moment, but first let me explain how I came to comprehend the significance of my presence.

Several of the speakers described President Podolefsky in that way---the right man in the right place at the right time. It started in the moving presentation of Eunice A. Lewin, a trustee of the State University and was also cited by speakers like Richard A. Stempniak, president of the Buffalo State Chapter of United University Professions and Linda A. Dobmeier, chair of the Buffalo State College Foundation.

As the tributes continued I understood that I also deserved that description because I was also performing my role with obvious distinction.

What exactly is the role of the official delegate? The first responsibility is to show up. The importance of that duty is basic and undeniable, and it is important to be on time. Each delegate registered in advance, gaining approval from both Buffalo State and the institution being represented. During the ceremony it is incumbent upon each delegate not only to remain awake throughout the proceedings but also to be attentive. I performed admirably.

The most demanding and visible assignment for each delegate is to don what is known among campus insiders as academic regalia and then march in what is called the academic procession. In simpler terms, that regalia is called a cap and gown. The outfit also includes a hood, which is seldom mentioned, but which is both colorful and essential. The hood, draped around the neck and hanging down the back is a silky fabric and the colors indicate the degree of the wearer as well as the institution attended. Thus each of delegates seems surrounded by an invisible but unmistakable aura of elegance. For most, the cap was the familiar black mortarboard worn at commencements, with a tassel hanging from a button atop the cap. Most tassels are black but a few were gold, an indication that the wearer had a doctorate. According to the program, the academic attire originated in the twelfth century with the medieval clergy.

The delegates march in order, according to the year of founding of their school, with the oldest going first. In this case, the oldest was Washington & Jefferson College, founded in 1781 and represented by Lyn M. Dyster. I was happy to be among the first eight. The youngest school involved was Empire State College, founded in 1971 and represented by Nan M. DiBello.

I witnessed my first academic procession years ago as a college freshman and I was impressed. Processions were held periodically for various academic events as well as commencement and I decided that at some future time I would like to be a participant. How would I have characterized the makeup of those processions years ago? I thought they were a bunch of geezers walking across the campus and down the aisle. Still the role appealed to me and for years my thoughts occasionally strayed to those recollections and I wondered whether I’d ever have the opportunity.

Incidentally, I looked around and I detected not a single geezer in the procession at Buffalo State. No, it was a vigorous group and I was clearly right for the job. What graybeards that were visible were all sartorially elegant.

President Podolefsky proved to be an engaging guy who knows how to deliver a speech, employing an informal style that captures the attention of listeners. And, hey, it came with an elegant free lunch.


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