Members of the Class of 2004 might want to bring umbrellas — and earplugs — to their Commencement. They soon will learn that they share a bond with the classes of 1987, 1970, 1953, and 1936: loud, flying 17-year cicadas.
Every 17 years, these long-living insects emerge from underground, transform into adults, mate, and die. New nymphs will burrow underground and remain there until the Class of 2021 makes its way onto the green.
Cicadas “have generally emerged prior to Commencement, as many as 100 per square yard of soil,” says Jim Consolloy, Princeton’s grounds manager. He notes that the 17-year cicada is orange and black, as opposed to the annual cicada, which is green and black.
Princeton’s most famous infestation of cicadas took place in 1970, in a Commencement notable for many things. The ceremony capped the year of the student strike against the Vietnam war; most graduates donned antiwar armbands instead of caps and gowns. “In the context of everything that happened that year,” recalls J. T. Miller ’70, “the cicadas were the final, crazy straw.”
Miller describes the cicadas that year as “almost Biblical,” with the insects flying around, landing on graduates, and creating a high-pitched, metallic whine so loud that it drowned out the speakers. Bob Dylan, at Commencement to receive an honorary degree, seemed so unnerved by the event that he broke out of the waiting processional line and headed toward his car, although his escort, Neil Rudenstine ’56, then dean of students (and future Princeton provost and Harvard president), persuaded him to return. Dylan recalled the affair in his song, “Day of the Locusts”:
“Sure was glad to get out of there alive.
And the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me . . . ”
In this issue, professor Sara Curran writes on teaching her students about issues of work and family. The topic has sparked much discussion on campus since Lisa Belkin ’82 wrote a New York Times Magazine article in February on highly educated women “opting out” of their careers.
In March, the Organization of Women Leaders organized a discussion attended by about 35 students. OWL leader Jessica Brondo ’04 says the general view expressed was “that it was shocking to see so many prominent women opting out of the workforce, and some of us question whether . . . they were forced to opt out” because of institutional constraints. But she added, “I was a little surprised to see so many students approve of women choosing to opt out . . . and say that they planned to make similar choices.”
Jessica already is working on a business plan to start a magazine; she wants children but plans to continue in a career. And while the fact that only one man attended the OWL discussion might suggest that today’s Princeton men aren’t interested in family issues, Jessica says she sees more and more who realize that these are challenges for them, too.