“Are you still in Boston?” It should have been an easy question to answer, a simple text message, but it had me all a flutter and unsure how to answer. It was quarter after one, I’d been at the airport since 10am, hoping to get on standby for a flight earlier than my scheduled 5:40 departure. No luck, 5:40 it was.
I looked at the text in my hand. Could I do it? Could I leave the airport, get to Harvard and take advantage of this amazing opportunity that had just been offered to me, and get back in time to make my flight?
A friend of mine, a new friend, I hope a continuing friend for the future, Mr. Nice Lawyer, had just offered me his extra ticket to go see Justice Souter speak at the afternoon ceremony part of Harvard’s graduation. Wow! Chances to hear a retired Supreme Court Justice don’t just pop up everyday. Plus, as I’m sure you can guess by his name, Mr. Nice Lawyer is really nice and fun to hang out with. The ceremony started at 2:30.
Google map, some math, a call to Mr. Nice Lawyer, a trip to the ticket counter to check what was no-longer my carry-on bag, and the next thing I new, I was back on the T and headed to Harvard, Daddy Bunny in tow. Good thing I didn’t throw out my 7-day pass for the T, Boston’s public transit system, when I got to the airport.
The campus was a bustle of commotion. Men in coat tails and top hats directing people. Signs left-over from the morning graduation portion posted here and there. A maze of people in jeans, in dresses, in long black robes, in bright red robes, caps and gowns and cameras and smiles everywhere. A long line of alumni, old white-haired alumni in crimson baseball caps filed slowly to their special seats in the front.
Mr. Nice Lawyer and I cut down a side-aisle and through a row, making a bee-line for some great seats next to the recording platforms. Both blessed with long legs, we gracefully stepped over a fee rows of chairs, avoiding the people all ready seated, and took our seats.
The day was gorgeous, bright and sunny. We sat under the shade of two large, green trees that celebrated the day by dropping a confetti of little green seedpods onto our hair and down my shirt throughout the ceremony.
Things kicked off with some sort of alumni meeting. The president of the alumni was this spunky Cuban woman with a delightful accent. She welcomed new graduates to alumni association, introduced the Dean of the University and awarded medals to distinguished alum.
The marching band came down the center aisle, horn angles all askew, music attached to their instruments - Hey, even Harvard students aren’t perfect – but they did sound good. And the tuba player had a little rubber duckie glued inside the bell of his tuba, which highly amused both me and Mr. Nice Lawyer.
The Honorable Justice
After many long speeches and frequent, nervous checkings of my watch, Justice Souter finally rose to speak. It was a very interesting speech, mostly a criticism of what he called “fair reading” of the Constitution. I believe this is also called strict interpretation, or something like that. And it happens to be the rallying cry of one, if not both, of my favorite Supreme Court Justices.
Justice Souter talked specifically of two famous cases. One, the Pentagon Papers case in which the US government argued “no law” did not mean “no law”. And the other, Brown v. Board of Education. Souter’s argument was that if one were to follow the fair reading approach, these cases could not be correct the way they were decided.
He spoke eloquently, and made good use of pauses – the speech coach that came to CC a few weeks back would be proud. He also spoke for awhile, which combined with the late start, made me nervous. It was after 4, I was at least 45 minutes from the airport and my flight was boarding at 5:15. As soon as the speech was over, while everyone else was standing for an ovation, I jetted out of there, running across Harvard Yard to the T stop.
The Stranger on the T
A nicely dressed gentleman joined me on the last leg of the T journey to the airport. I had caught all the trains I needed immediately and was relaxing a bit, though still checking my watch now and then.
The gentleman started up a pleasant conversation, asking about the T, explaining that although he had lived in the Boston area most of his life, he had never taken the T to the airport. I told him what I knew and explained I had minimal experience, mostly from that morning.
Being at the gate, leaving the airport, jumping on the T to Harvard and running back to the airport – the gentleman told me I was crazy. He also told me he appreciated the effort. He was the Assistant Dean of Harvard and had also been at ceremony. But he had left before Justice Souter’s speech. “David’s a great guy,” he said, explaining that he knew Justice Souter well and been able to spend some time with him earlier in the day, even though he couldn’t stay for the speech.
We had a nice chat on the bus ride, about Boston, Florida, Wisconsin and Cali. And before I knew it, we were at my terminal. Time to jump off and go back to running. I did make my flight. Thanks in part to the security man who took me to the front of the line and in part to the flight’s 30 minute delay.
What a great adventure! Thank you, Mr. Nice Lawyer.