Celebrating the history and archaeology of Brown University and Providence, Rhode Island

Month: March 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

Tools for overcoming tolerance. By Connor Grealy

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

As part of the kickoff for the celebration of its semi-quincentennial (yes, that’s 250th) celebration, Brown University invited back a number of its famous alumni to discuss their professions, worldviews, and experiences as undergrads. One of these distinguished alumni was Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez ’83, who delivered the keynote address for the Opening Celebration. In addition to Perez’s academic achievements – a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government – he served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under then-Attorney General Janet Reno, worked for Senator Ted Kennedy and also served as Assistant Attorney General. Perez has a unique background for the Secretary of Labor as many of the previous secretaries have experience as economists as opposed to Perez’s primary field of expertise, civil rights law.

His unique pathway to President Obama’s cabinet, as he explained, was underscored by a desire to improve the situation of the every day American, a position supported by his recent efforts to increase the federal minimum wage and improve the growing income disparity in the United States. Perez alluded to his own upbringing in Buffalo, NY, where he was the youngest of five children and was raised by a single mother and his siblings after the age of 12 in the context of improving American’s lives. Speaking about his friend’s father, who served as a type of surrogate father, the Secretary of Labor reflected on the difficulty of seeing his role model, a man who had not attained his high school diploma, contend with rising costs of living and contending with the difficulties of life for many ‘working poor’ Americans. Perez, referencing meetings with the executives of companies like Costco, Boeing and Gap and the rhetoric of Henry Ford, asserted that lifting Americans from the situation of that of his surrogate father is an economically and morally sound decision. He said that people should not have to choose between medicine for their children or paying the utilities, and supported his belief that it is his duty to ensure that Americans do not have to make these unsolvable decisions.

I was fortunate enough to also see Secretary Perez in a more intimate setting as he spoke to a small group following his keynote address. His engaging manner and extreme passion for improving the lot of all Americans was even more tangible in the close quarters of the room.  Perez referenced an email exchange with Katherine Hackett, a woman from Connecticut who counted herself as one of 3.9 million long-term unemployed Americans and recently introduced President Obama at the White House, in describing how the emotive and stories of other Americans inspires him every day in his job. For the Secretary of Labor to keep a single email exchange with him shows that Perez truly and deeply cares about the plight of every single American. He referred to toleration as something that one had for ‘brussel sprouts’, not for the unenviable situation of many Americans today. Perez credited his Brown education, as for all Brown graduates, as a tool to make a difference in the world and rise above just tolerating the injustices and inequalities that currently exist. As Mrs. Hackett also wrote about her long-standing search for a job, “keep seeking the small victories” as these will lead to the larger changes that you seek in the world.

250 Years? By David Caianiello

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

In true Brown fashion, setup for this weekend’s festivities began well in advance. Around 5 PM on Wednesday an oversized crane was present in front of University Hall on the Main Green, lifting 40-foot scaffolds that would support the brown awning over the main stage. I can’t help but wonder how past milestones were celebrated – was there this much setup involved in celebrating the 200th? Was student life on campus anywhere near as vibrant and varied as it is now?

 The short answer is, undoubtedly, no. In 1964 Pembroke was a separate entity and student groups numbered in the tens, not in the hundreds. The performance spaces required for this weekend (which include most, if not all, of the major venues on campus) could have comfortably housed the entire Brown community.
[Please note: as I wrote this, I assumed the setup was for the stage that usually is placed on the Main Green during events – it turns out it was the scaffolding for the 250th fireworks display. I do, however, think this observation is important.] As seemingly silly as the pomp surrounding University events is, there is a significance to using the same stage again and again for momentous occasions. At a certain level, the stage – with its brown footers, red tent, and familiar Brown seal adoring the top – is only a backdrop. Whether the orchestra at campus dance or an honorary doctorate being awarded, the stage takes a backseat to the spectacle it houses. It has become a familiar backdrop for campus photos, and often goes unnoticed. It is interesting to think, however, about its use for President Paxson’s inauguration last year. The event was not as universally awaited as Commencement  – but its use gave the occasion a weight that signified her installation as president. The use of the stage cemented her newfound authority, and her position as a new ceremonial figurehead for the University. I wonder if the event would have felt differently if they had erected her podium on the steps of Faunce.
This is, however, off the intended topic – during the setup, the Brown band filed onto the Main Green from the Quiet Green and began to play fight songs and some of their normal repertoire (Time Warp, Paul Simon, etc). They stood between Manning and University for about 30 minutes before making their way quietly off the green. I don’t, in fact, know where the band was going or why they had started on the quiet green. I do, however, know that it was cold enough outside that all walked briskly by and that there were no athletics scheduled for the day. It seems that the band came to play solely for the workers bringing the 250th ceremony to life.
As someone who used to be a part of a marching band, I realize how miserable it is to play in freezing temperatures. Yet many members of the Brown Band showed up on the Green with the sole purpose of giving the staff who erected the stage something to whistle along to. I’m not entirely sure what this says about our University as a whole; maybe I am incorrectly interpreting the Band’s stop on the Green. I like to think that this small act of kindness is distinctive of Brown and that we can realize and appreciate the work that goes into our spectacles. This reflection is distinctive of our community and came to life today during setup.

Cake and Fireworks at Brown’s 250th Anniversary Celebration. By Nicole Chen.

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

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Tonight marked the start of a year of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Brown University. The main green – where generations of late students have run across to class, where hundreds of Blue Room muffins have been eaten, where thousands of students have danced during Spring Weekend – was filled with current students, alumni and their families, and RI families, all eager for the festivities to begin.

On the stage sat a 600 pound, 5 feet by 3 feet, and just under 3 feet high cake meant to serve more than 1,000 people. To say the least, the cake was impressing. Detailed to the last 100th  window, the cake resembled Brown’s first building, University Hall, and the famous Van Wickle gates. An article by the Providence Journal claimed it to be “one of the largest cakes that has ever been made,” amounting to over 200 man-hours to put it together.[1] The cake appeared almost unreal, like a plastic replica of University Hall. I felt as if I could almost see or imagine myself as a miniature student walking through the gates up to University Hall! After several short speeches about the history and future of Brown, including one from the adorable Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson who started the night with a prayer exactly 250 words in length, the cake was finally cut by President Christina Paxson.

A couple minutes after the cutting of the cake, University Hall became illuminated with fireworks. Matching the tune of Brown’s fight song, “Ever True to Brown” from the Brown band, the fireworks show was one of the most moving and in sync fireworks show that I have seen. Not only were the fireworks themselves remarkable, but having the fireworks on top of and behind University Hall personalized the celebration and brought it home to Brown’s campus. The show was capped off with small sparklers outlining a “250+” on the front of University Hall. This truly was a celebration of Brown, its history, its legacy, and the promise of its future.

Although the 250th anniversary cake and fireworks were certainly impressive and surprising, one has to wonder about the financial cost of these events. As the Providence Journal quotes Oakleaf, the cake maker, “’There are (wedding cakes for heads of state that are in the two-thousand serving range, but as far as I know, cake sculpture-wise, to have over a thousand servings is incredibly rare, just because it’s incredibly expensive.’ Price tag — confidential.”1 Walking away from the main green after the event, a student was also overheard saying to a friend, “Well, we just lost so much financial aid.” While celebration is definitely called for, the expense may not have been the most practical use of Brown’s dollars.

Tonight, Brown displayed an unprecedented and extraordinary show that marked the beginning of a year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary. While many students were skeptical at first about Brown’s ability to put on fireworks and a 1000+ cake, many would agree that the celebration of Brown’s history was, in fact, truly captured tonight. Price, however, doesn’t appear to be a factor, in the planning of Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration.

[1] “LOCAL NEWS.” Brown’s Sculpted 250th Anniversary Cake for 2,500 a Giant Undertaking / Video. Providence Journal, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

Fireworks display. By Nick Fascitelli

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

On Friday evening I attended the 250th anniversary celebration on the main green that culminated with a grandiose firework display. The gathering was the first of many celebrations over the weekend honoring the anniversary and it turned into a massive affair. I arrived at the event shortly before President Paxson began to speak. I was not able to hear what she was saying unfortunately as I was not close enough to the stage but there was a loud roar when she declared Brown “the Ivy League champion of fun”. At the time it was a medium sized gathering but nothing exceptional. Every minute though it seemed more and more people started to fill in, and before I knew it I looked back and college green was completely packed. People were filling college green from every direction in anticipation of the firework display. After President Paxson finished speaking we were treated to a prayer by the University Chaplain, remarks from politicians and board members, and finally a word poem from a student group.  My main critique of the event lies here as standing in the crowd I was unable to hear anything that was being said on stage. Speaking to many of my fellow students who were at the event they were similarly annoyed and perplexed. Given all the preparation that went into setting up the event, one would think they would make sure to have a sound system that enabled attendees to hear sufficiently. Ultimately, all of the proceedings besides the firework display were impractical and irrelevant without being able to hear. One of the coolest features of the night was the cake the university had made for the event. The majestic cake, a model of University Hall, was 650 pounds and an astonishing 1,400 pieces (somehow I still didn’t get one!). The fireworks were the main reason most people attended the event and they did not disappoint. The pyrotechnics display was grand, spanning about five full minutes and leaving one thinking they were at a New Years party at a hotel rather than at a university party. On the side of the Stephen Roberts Center a display appeared in blazing white flames spelling out “250+”. As the fireworks spewed from the roof of the center, the fireworks illuminated the whole green. I have seen many large firework displays but left extremely impressed by what I had seen. The overcast sky and chilly weather gave the fireworks a different, more unique feel than previous pyrotechnic displays I had seen. The finale was grand, culminating with the “250+” appearing again but this time in gold flames. All in all I thought it was a nice event and a good precursor to start off the celebratory weekend by the university. People who attended the event seemed to genuinely to enjoy it and left with smiles on their faces. I was only able to attend one other event all weekend unfortunately, but many other students who I spoke with who attended many of the weekend’s events said the firework display was their highlight.


Reflection on the talk by Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. By Philip Tabak

This post is a student contribution from Claudia Moser’s class ARCH 1764: 25 Things! 250 Years of Brown’s Material Past

When first deciding which aspect of the celebration to attend, I was unsure how the weekend would correlate to what we have learned and discussed throughout the semester.  Therefore, I decided to attend a few different events starting with the first one, remarks by the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim.

Jim Yong Kim’s event was highly anticipated and had limited seating, forcing me to stream the lecture from my computer at home.  Attending the lecture via computer proved to have some flaws, for the display was interrupted every so often, and I would have to refresh the page.  At first, I did not think much of this hindrance, yet by the end of the speech I started to notice a connection with our class discussions.

Just before questions, Jim Yong Kim asked the audience to remember how we felt at that very moment, to remember what we are passionate for and that we can change the world.  While this may have been the feeling within the room of the lecture hall, the removed lens through which I was watching did not allow me to feel the same emotions.  I felt somewhat disconnected from the entire process of celebrating Brown’s 250th anniversary.

I experienced the same feeling during the questions segment of the lecture.  One student asked how he would be able to get in touch with someone such as Mr. Kim; Mr. Kim responded that he should come down to the front of the room and take one of his business cards.  I realized if I’d wanted to do the same from my seat, it would have been practically impossible.  It was perhaps at this moment that I finally started to agree with Walter Benjamin.

During our class discussions, I argued vehemently against Benjamin, stating that there was authenticity in reproduction and the removed perspective.  However, after experiencing this lecture, I may have to change my viewpoint. Perhaps the lecture should not have been streamed for mass audience and instead limited to those who had tickets.  I was missing that one element of presence in time and space, and that lack of aura caused me to dislike the lecture.  It is my assumption that, had I been in the room, I would have a very different attitude towards the remarks.


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