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Relatives cheer on new doctors

Elated family members and friends cheered amid waving arms, clicking camera shutters, whirring video recorders, yelping infants and crackling packages of snack foods including Dizzy Grizzlies, Animal Crackers and baby carrots at the MIT doctoral investiture ceremony last Thursday in Rockwell Cage.

In contrast to the comparative solemnity of Commencement, the MIT hooding ceremony, as the doctoral investiture is known, is a more intimate and informal affair, bordering occasionally on the casual as older siblings race younger ones along the gym's stroller-friendly hardwood floors and grandmothers pace back and forth, holding babies.

The procession of faculty members into the cage was led by Lawrence S. Bacow, chair of the faculty. The doctoral degree candidates, still in the somber black robes of undergraduate life, were escorted in by marshals W. Eric L. Grimson, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Leslie K. Norford, professor of architecture.

J. David Litster, vice president for research and dean for graduate education, welcomed the assembled throng, followed by greetings by President Charles M. Vest.

"You have scaled the absolute peak," said President Vest, his tone both solemn and laudatory. But in keeping with the high spirits of the occasion, he quickly turned to comments on the "proper way to wear the tassel"--there isn't one--and on the origin of the slightly priestly hood--to toss alms into.

"This being MIT, let's experiment," Dr. Vest said.

And he did so, attempting to toss a handful of "medieval coins" into a doctoral hood held open by Isaac M. Colbert, senior associate dean for graduate education, who played the role of a 14th-century scholar.

The MIT hood has the traditional alms-receiving shape: it's four feet long, with a rounded base. A five-inch velvet band around its inside edge signifies by color the type of doctoral degree--in MIT's case, blue trim for PhD degrees and yellow for ScD degrees.

The lining bears the school's colors--cardinal red and silver gray. Doctoral degrees from the joint program in oceanography and oceanographic engineering are signified by an additional velvet band in blue, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute color.

The names of the 355 doctoral degree recipients (some of whom graduated in September and June) were read by Samuel L. Keyser, Peter de Florez Professor of Linguistics. Hoods were presented by faculty representatives of 23 different departments in the Institute's seven Schools.

One of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning's Doctor of Philosophy hoods went to Paola Perez-Aleman, whose daughter, Sofia, 3, and husband, Van Essayan, cheered wildly. Mr. Essayan, a doctoral candidate in public health policy at the Haller School at Brandeis, took a moment to reflect on the day's larger meaning.

"Paola is the first Nicaraguan woman to hold a PhD from MIT," he said proudly. "Our commitment was to go back to Managua with more credibility and better research skills, to impact policy there. We hope for a multiplier effect through education. So, for us, MIT isn't just educating one person. Ultimately, through one person, it educates many."

Another PhD recipient was Thomas M. Ravens of civil and environmental engineering. His Gatorade-toting family was the group about halfway back, including niece Catherine, 22 months; nephew James, 4; his Phalen nephews, Anthony, 9, Joe, 8, and Billy, 6; and his wife Louke, just in from Holland.

"We also brought raisins, carrots, nectarines and apples. Would you like anything to eat?" offered sister-in-law Jean.

One of the Doctor of Science hoods went to Omowoleola C. Akinyemi of Nigeria and Gary, IN. Attending the ceremony were his wife, Tope; his sister, Yeside; his 15-month-old daughter, Toluwa, and his parents, who traveled from Nigeria for the occasion. Toluwa sat calmly in Aunt Yeside's lap.

Newly minted PhD Peter D. Noymer is the youngest of four siblings. Their congratulatory gift--a clear plastic pocket protector and three roller-point pens (one black, one red and one blue)--only hinted at their happy pride.

"You mean, Uncle Poo?" said nephew Nate Levine, 4, when asked if the new PhD up on stage was part of the family. "Uncle Poo's not such a great basketball player."

Other family members offered their own light-hearted assessments. "He's actually up there because of me," his brother Eddie said. Brother David added, "I raised him. We thought he'd end up a vagrant. he still naps like a baby, you know." Not to be outdone, his sister Beth said, "I raised him. Smart, but no common sense."

Grace Colon (SB '95) added a festive note of her own. She and the new Dr. Noymer are getting married in New Orleans, then heading to the Caribbean for a honeymoon before settling in Washington, DC, as "part of the military-industrial complex," she said.

The pair met in the MIT gym, Ms. Colon said. "I taught aerobics classes, and he ran triathlons. I just kept noticing what a great laugh he had. One day, I just said, 'Hey, have a nice run?' Then he sent me e-mail. I sent him e-mail. We dated by e-mail. Finally, we went out to lunch." Turning to young Nate, she continued, "Uncle Poo ran the last five miles of the Boston Marathon with me. He carried a knapsack full of Power Bars the whole way. That's just the kind of guy he is."

Other members of the Noymer clan included parents Arthur and Barbara, young nieces Hannah Levine and Rebecca and Deborah Noymer, and their mother Leslie, who added, "Uncle Poo was the first person in the whole family to get to the hospital and hold his nieces. He'll be special to me for the rest of my life because of that."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 1997.

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