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The rain at MIT's 136th Commencement divided the crowd into a muted checkerboard of black gowns and gray rain ponchos, but thousands of umbrellas in every color and style managed to brighten Killian Court.
Most audience members could be described as "umbrella utilitarians." For them, basic black, or maybe even a golf umbrella with red and white panels, was fine. But others thought this mass of metal and material a perfect mode for self-expression.
Of the many MIT umbrellas held high, none was more abundant than the striking red Sloan School umbrella adorned with the school's logo. Other universities were represented on nylon as well, though apparently no one cared to use Harvard's "VE-RI-TAS" as a shield.
Several individuals seemed determined to disrupt the grayness of the sky with vibrant flora and fauna. Floral designs and patterns of ripe apples, bananas and oranges accomplished this, even as they complemented the verdant grounds of the court. Another person's umbrella featured a dozen different species of butterflies, each labeled as it would be in a museum display case.
Also especially popular was the American flag umbrella. The patriotic (and dry) souls beneath them reflected a recently renewed appreciation for the symbol.
The crowd was also filled with art lovers. One of the best-looking parasols was an umbrella-fied version of "Watersnakes I," Gustav Klimt's painting of a pair of mermaids. Another featured a reproduction of one of Monet's waterlily paintings. A graduate who was unlucky enough to find herself at the end of the lengthy procession into Killian Court seemed content under an umbrella depicting an entire Sunday's worth of comic strips.
Also favored were umbrellas that sported corporate logos. As one might expect, technology companies like IBM and Compaq were well represented. Financial services firms, especially philanthropic when it comes to providing umbrellas to golf tournament participants, also made their mark. Given the sogginess of the whole affair, the umbrella that advertised "Aquatrols: The water management people," likely made more than one onlooker wish that the person underneath had brought the whole company with them.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 2002.