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May 9, 1996


Thousands of students were transformed into alumni April 28 at the University's annual commencement ceremony. Despite the lure of a Pittsburgh Penguins playoff game on television and an unusually warm spring day, students and their families nearly filled the Civic Arena, Downtown, for the event. Sheldon Hackney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), gave the commencement address.

Pitt conferred about 6,800 degrees this year, representing all 17 schools on the Pittsburgh campus. About one-third of the graduates attended the ceremony.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg presented Hackney with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. Hackney told the audience that he didn't want to give a typical graduation speech. Instead he used current events as a way of challenging the graduates to "resuscitate the American dream." Hackney earned his B.A. from Vanderbilt and his master's and doctoral degrees from Yale. Before his term as chair at the NEH, he served as president of Tulane University and the University of Pennsylvania. During his 12 years at Penn the school concluded a $1 billion fundraising campaign and doubled its sponsored research. Some spectators and graduates, who sat by their respective schools on the Civic Arena floor, complained that Hackney's speech, as well as the remarks from Nordenberg, were difficult to hear. Ron Gigliotti of the Office of Special Events said there was a problem with the sound system, but he believed most of the problems were confined seats on the floor. "The acoustics of the building and the nature of the doomed roof make it difficult for a sound system," Gigliotti said. But he acknowledged that the sound system worked without a hitch in previous years. Not being able to hear the speeches didn't stop many graduates from enjoying the day, however. Beach balls bounced through the aisles, one almost as big as the aisle itself. When Pitt Police Officer Eric Holmes ran down the aisle to pick up the oversized ball, Nordenberg quipped that the graduates not only represented academic excellence, but athletic prowess as well.

–Mark Gordon

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