Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To Sir Paul, with love

‘We love you, yeah, yeah, yeah’ follows ex-Beatle around campus

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— Dr. Ruth got what everyone along the Yale University graduation processional route was hoping for: a few words sung by Sir Paul McCartney.
“He recognized me!” said the diminutive Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist of radio and television fame, who prompted the ex-Beatle to sing to her.
“He said ‘Hi,’ and I said, ‘Sing a song’ and he sang ‘I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah,’” said Westheimer, giggling, Monday as she headed across the New Haven Green to Yale’s Old Campus through Phelps Gate on College Street.
Westheimer, 80, a fellow at Calhoun College, said she teaches one seminar a year at Yale.
McCartney, 65, was one of eight honorary degree recipients Sunday at Yale’s 307th commencement, but the astrophysicist, Harvard president, poet, environmentalist and others of note were runners-up as far as the crowd lining the processional route were concerned.
McCartney shook hands as he passed the graduates, calling out “Good morning,” and congratulating them. When he saw Westheimer, he stopped for an impromptu photo with her and some of her friends.
Yale never releases the names of the honorary degree recipients until the morning of graduation, but McCartney’s visit became known Sunday when he and his fellow honorees gathered in the early evening for dinner at the Yale Center for British Art.
McCartney answered some questions as he walked along and said he was particularly taken by the “fabulous exhibition” at the museum of Joseph Wright of Liverpool, McCartney’s hometown, where he is the lead patron of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
“Cherie Blair (wife of Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain,) and myself were particularly interested in that. I had just happened to have picked up a book a couple of months ago and didn’t realize that it was all exhibited here. So, that was great. It was a great ceremony — the whole thing was lovely and we couldn’t have asked for a better day for it,” McCartney said, referring to Sunday’s event at the museum.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the Class Day speaker at Yale on Sunday.
Just over 3,100 students received their degrees Monday back at their residential colleges and professional schools following the traditional graduation ceremony on the Old Campus Monday morning.
A band played “Hey, Jude,” as McCartney took the stage, with Yale President Richard C. Levin’s remarks evoking the lyrics of some of the Beatles’ classics.
“There is no one compares with you,” Levin said, a twist on “In My Life,” which McCartney wrote with fellow Beatle, John Lennon.
“Here, there and everywhere, you have pushed the boundaries of the familiar to create new classics. We admire your musical genius and your generous support of worthy causes,” said the president.
At least part of the weekend, McCartney stayed at the Josef Albers Foundation in Bethany, which has residence studios for visiting artists.
Before his short riff for Dr. Ruth, McCartney was asked if he was going to sing at some point Monday during his extended visit to New Haven. “I don’t think so. Maybe after the ceremony. In private,” he said, laughing.
McCartney was serenaded several times along the route from Woodbridge Hall to the Old Campus with groups of graduates periodically breaking into, “We love you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and guests of all ages jockeying for a better view.
“Oh, my God, I have to call my mom,” said Alissa Palladino, a graduating senior from Davenport College, after McCartney shook her hand.
A family visiting from Minnesota was taken back when they saw McCartney, who is credited with being the creative force behind the Beatles.
“It’s wonderful to see him in person. He looks great,” said Jan Engasser, whose son, William Engasser, was graduating. “When you think what he (McCartney) has been through with that divorce, how draining that would be.”
McCartney had a very public, bitter divorce from Heather Mills with a British judge recently awarding her 24.3 million pounds in alimony, one-fifth of what she had asked for.
As is traditional, the other honorees represented both the arts and sciences.
They were: architect Cesar Pelli, the former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, who in addition to an international presence has many buildings in New Haven, including the new Cooperative High School under construction on College Street.
Also, the poet John Lawrence Ashbery; Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a theologian and leader in the ecumenical movement; Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize; Carla Anderson Hills, former U.S. trade representative from 1989 to 1993 and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1975-77.
Also, Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of the Civil War and the 28th president of Harvard University, the first woman in that position; and Lord Martin Rees, astrophysicist, whose work has focused on the origins of the universe.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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