Forty-eight years ago, those of us now called the Class of '58 convened upon this campus even as the Classes of '03 to '06 do today.
If you had seen us assembled, you would have thought we looked odd—for we had to wear beanies with a '58 stitched into our caps—and we, for our part, surveyed a very different campus from the one presented today.
There was not even one building named "Bristol" then, much less two, and certainly no "Napier" or "Rosenberg". There was no "Melly", no "Scandling", no "Hirshson", no "Odell". And how could a freshman in 1954 even imagine that such would come to be. After all, Bill Napier was on campus with us, only one class ahead. Tom Melly and Henry Rosenberg had graduated a mere two years before we arrived, and Bill Scandling just three years before them.
Our professors, deans and soon to be president were people with the names of Warren Hetherington Durfee, Theodore T. Odell and Louis Hirshson. We knew them as human figures who walked amongst us and who shared lives with us here on campus.
Now many are gone, and succeeding entering classes came to know of them only as names on buildings. And yet, while the personalities behind those names are not revealed, we know that the generations of students, faculty and administration passing through those portals realized that this reversal of anthropomorphism represented the embodiment of a continuity of commitment to our college community in some tangible way, because it is really a spirit that we speak of; a spirit that can be felt even though it cannot be touched, a spirit that transcends generations and will abide with us as long as we are faithful to it.
The spirit of this moment, then, is not novel. It was present when Bill Scandling arrived here in 1945. For there was once an Arthur Cleveland Coxe, and a William Smith, and a Benjamin Hale, and indeed, a Joseph and a Sylvester Medberry, who, by the time he arrived could only be names of buildings to him and then later to us, but nevertheless names that we all understood to be part of the legacy of this campus. We gather today within the bond of that tradition; as a part of that spirit which endures because it has been diligently preserved and carefully safeguarded.
And so, as time goes by, and go by it surely will, the memory of the names of today - as people - will certainly dim; ultimately to fade away. But what will survive is the notion - even if only vaguely perceived - that there were people here once, no matter how long before, who cared enough to reach across an immeasurable gulf to those whom they knew would come after.
There will come a time when a Class of '58 will not refer to 1958, even as it no longer denotes 1858. The realization that this Hall, soon to rise, will stand to serve those students and their faculty fills me with great pride, to be sure, but with even greater humility. Who could not be proud at this naming, or fail to be humbled by an honor beyond what this recipient deserves.
"Anthropomorphism," Convocation address by Judge Herbert J. Stern '58
September 3, 2002