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10/24/2014 09:00:32

The Inauguration: New Leadership and Old Traditions

The inauguration of President Thomas F. Rosenbaum marks the beginning of a new era of leadership at Caltech. And yet, many of the traditional events associated with the inauguration ceremony itself are actually quite old.

As the processional begins, it would be difficult not to notice the variety of gowns, colored hoods, and mortarboards worn by the academic delegates representing their respective institutions. This distinctive parade of colors and styles—each one indicating a scholar's degree, university, and subject—is an academic symbolism that dates back to at least the 14th century in Europe, and the subsequent code of academic dress was adopted in the United States in 1895.

Of these colors and dress, David Elliot (1917–2007) once wrote, when he was professor of history at Caltech, "With this color and symbolism, which is medieval though mutated, we stage our brief moment of pageantry, paying homage to that ancient community of scholars in whose shadow we stand, and acknowledging our debt to the university as one of the great institutional constructs of the Middle Ages."

In addition, "Gaudeamus Igitur," the musical selection chosen for the inauguration ceremony has a long history of its own. Although its verses urge students to "rejoice while we're young," evoking images of the carpe diem student life that we often associate with a more modern college experience, the song actually is a traditional college hymn dating from the 13th century.

This song has long been a standard at commencements and inaugurations, including the 1998 inauguration of President Emeritus David Baltimore, the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology. The particular arrangement that will be performed at President Rosenbaum's inauguration by the Caltech Glee Club, accompanied by the Caltech Convocation Brass and Percussion Ensemble and Organ, was made for Caltech by composer Robert A. M. Ross in 1984 and was revised in 1997.

While these traditions are common to academic ceremonies around the world, there are a few other traditions of dress and music that are unique to Caltech. One such practice—the passing of Robert A. Millikan's academic hood to the new president—has occurred at each Caltech inauguration since that of president emeritus Harold Brown in 1969.

In 1921, Millikan joined Caltech from the University of Chicago (as has President Rosenbaum). A towering figure of 20th-century physics, Millikan won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1923—Caltech's first Nobel Prize—for isolating the electron and measuring its charge. Although he refused the title of president, Millikan served as chairman of the Executive Council until 1945, acting as the administrative head of modern-day Caltech. The motif used in the design of the inset of the inauguration invitation and program is a nod to Millikan's legacy of leadership at Caltech: it was inspired by the architectural design on the exterior of the Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics, where Millikan served for many years as director.

The singing of the Caltech alma mater, "Hail CIT," performed by the Caltech Glee Club at President Rosenbaum's inauguration, is a tradition that also traces back to the 1920s. The music and lyrics were composed for Caltech by a civil engineering student named Manton M. Barnes, who graduated in 1921. While Barnes attended Caltech, he wrote the alma mater and co-wrote a number of other songs for the Institute's Gnome Club, a fraternity-like social organization in the early days of the Institute that now serves the Caltech community through the Alumni Association, the Caltech Y, and other programs.

At the end of President Rosenbaum's inauguration program, there will be an organ postlude of the "Throop Institute March." This musical tradition also stems from the early days of the Gnome Club. In 1900, members of several campus clubs, including the Gnome Club and the Throop Institute Guitar and Mandolin Society, visited Catalina Island where they met with the Catalina Island Marine Band. After the band's director, E.C. Kammermeyer, learned that Caltech—at the time, Throop Polytechnic Institute—had no official marching song, he decided to compose one. Shortly afterward, Kammermeyer had the march published by a music company in Los Angeles; at some point, the music was lost, not seen again until it turned up in a 1987 search.

Although the march initially was composed for the Institute's Guitar and Mandolin Society, at President Rosenbaum's inauguration it will be performed by organist Leslie J. Deutsch (BS '76, MS '77, PhD '80), chief technologist for the Interplanetary Network Directorate at JPL. In addition to playing at many commencement ceremonies, Deutsch has been the organist at every inauguration since the 1988 inauguration of Thomas E. Everhart, now president emeritus; professor of electrical engineering and applied physics, emeritus; and a member of the Caltech Board of Trustees.

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad