season is arriving in this grand metropolis, the higher education
capital of the world. Every graduate has a story. Tiffany Smalleys
just happens to be 346 years old.
She sat in a Harvard Square coffee shop
one recent morning telling it in the understated way of hers, repeatedly
talking about two young men, Caleb and Joel, Joel and Caleb, as
if they might breeze through the door and start hashing over weekend
The familiarity, even the affection, is
understandable. They are all Wampanoag Indians, these three. They
are accomplished people. They all left Marthas Vineyard to
prosper over four years at Harvard. There is, however, a key distinction:
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck and Joel Iacommes hark from the 1600s, while
Tiffany, sipping a Frappuccino and rushing off to an internship,
is every bit of the modern world.
Come May 26, the bond between Smalley
and both her ancestors will come full circle. That is the day she
will stride across the stage to accept a diploma and become the
first Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard College since Caleb received
his degree in 1665.
The connection, recognizing those
roots, is really important to feeling at home here,
Smalley said. And Ive felt really at home, knowing Caleb
did this. It gives you perspective. He was just thrown into it,
and for him, it was a whole different world.
That connection will be realized with
Joel on commencement day in an even more extraordinary way. Harvard
officials plan to announce today that the university is granting
a posthumous degree to Joel Iacommes, Calebs classmate who
was killed in a shipwreck while he visited his family on Marthas
Vineyard just before graduation. Nearly 3 1/2 centuries later, Smalley
will accept the diploma that has been lost in the dust of time.
The awarding of the degree will have various
meanings to different people. For the record keepers, it will be,
almost certainly, the oldest posthumous diploma ever given in the
United States. For Harvard, it marks a new front in rediscovering
and highlighting its heritage as a university chartered to educate
Indians alongside Puritans. For the Wampanoags from Aquinnah and
Mashpee, it is a triumphant dose of hard-earned recognition.
And for Tiffany Smalley, it is simple
justice for a young man who didnt live to claim what he so
richly earned, and has lately been lost in the growing shadow of
his more prominent tribe member, Caleb. Harvard officials unveiled
a portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck in December. And he is being
introduced to the larger world as the namesake character in Calebs
Crossing, a historical novel written by Pulitzer Prize
winning author Geraldine Brooks and published last week to early
Calebs gotten a lot of shine
this year, Smalley said. And now, finally, its
Left unstated is the profound accomplishment
of Smalley herself, the brainy, dimpled student described by Harvard
historian Lisa Brooks as an amazing young woman.
This is a place full of leaders,
full of intelligent and prominent students, Brooks said.
Tiffany is all of those things, and she is carrying a great
legacy and much humility.
Smalley has been deeply involved in the
push by Harvard to reconnect with its Indian roots. She was among
the many students who have embarked on an archeological dig for
the last several years in the area of Harvard Yard where the Indian
College once stood. They also built a wetu, or Indian hut, on campus.
Harvard president Drew Faust was on the
phone recently saying that the dig, occurring just outside her window,
was unearthing essential truths along with artifacts. Weve
been rediscovering the history right before our eyes literally,
she said. Its focused a lot of attention on our Indian
Those Indian origins run true and deep,
though not consistently. The school stipulated in its 1650 charter
that the goal was the Education of the English and Indian
Youth of the Country, a mission that attracted much-needed
money from England in the name of converting Indians to Christianity.
Henry Dunster, the universitys first president, envisioned
Harvard as the Indian Oxford as well as the New English Cambridge.
Joel and Caleb, sons of Wampanoag tribal
leaders, were sent to preparatory school in Roxbury and Cambridge,
then entered Harvard in 1661, to be educated alongside five Englishmen.
They became fluent in Latin, Greek, English, and enough Hebrew to
read parts of the Old Testament.
By all accounts, Joel and Caleb
excelled at college, said Brooks, the historian. They
were as good, or better, than their English classmates.
Despite the early success, the mission
and missionary work came to an abrupt halt in 1675,
with King Philips War. The Indian College was torn down by
1698. Harvard basically pushed aside the Indian tenets in its charter,
until the 1970s, when recruiting began anew.
When Smalley was a high school sophomore,
she visited Harvard as part of a six-week program geared toward
Native American students and quickly became enamored of it. Neither
of her parents graduated from college. The oldest of three siblings,
she came from a secluded community on the Vineyard. But she remained
I imagined everyone would be extra
smart and stuck up, Smalley said. But everyones
been really down to earth. Smart, yes, but down to earth.
By last fall, 2.7 percent of the incoming
freshmen were of Native American descent, by every measure a banner
year for recruitment at Harvard, though that number fluctuates significantly
from year to year.
Some have begun pushing for Joel and Caleb
scholarships for Native Americans. Faust herself said she hopes
the attention on the posthumous degree will draw the attention
of Native Americans to Harvard.
But for now, for Native Americans, its
a moment to celebrate. It means a lot to us as a tribal community
that Joel was one of ours, and to Indians across the country that
we had Indians graduating from Harvard in 1665, not one, but two,
said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag
And some 346 years later, for the Wampanoags,
a third one as well.