The ‘climb’ is worth it: More than 500 graduate from Amherst College

  • Amherst College graduate Nicholas Gulow of Florence receives a diploma from President Biddy Martin Sunday during commencement ceremonies. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Amherst College graduate Daylin Delgado stands up during presentation of the Pheobe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards, for nominating winner Neyda Borges, an English and journalism teacher in Miami Lakes, Florida. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Amherst College President Biddy Martin delivers her last commencement speech after an 11-year tenure as the president, Sunday on the Quad in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Amherst College Class of 2022 graduates Peter Baird, Sam Beach, Dagim Belete and Lauren Bell listen to the senior address Sunday during the college’s 201st Commencement on the Campus Quad in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Retired Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey calls to order the Amherst College 2022 commencement ceremony Sunday on the Amherst College Quad in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Graduate and speaker for the senior class Abdullah Brownel addresses his class on Sunday. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Amherst College Class of 2022 graduates, led by Jonathan Paul, proceed up the Quad to kick off the 201st commencement ceremony, Sunday in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Amherst College Class of 2022 graduates Sam Beach, Dagim Belete, Lauren Bell and Marina Bevacqua listen to the senior address Sunday during the 201st commencement on the Campus Quad in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Amherst College graduate Cynthia Henry joyfully accepts her mathematics degree Sunday during commencement ceremonies on the Freshman Quad in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

For the Gazette
Monday, June 06, 2022

AMHERST — Memorial Hill on the campus of Amherst College is a schlepp. It starts way down by Lefrak Gym and rises higher, higher and higher until its summit at the Main Quadrangle is reached.

“In THESE heels?” laughed Kendall Song Kurlander of Baltimore, Maryland, who nonetheless joined 503 of her fellow grads in that processional, which, symbolically or not, serves as the last hurdle for seniors. It helps to have stirring accompaniment from The Commencement Band, of course, but in cap, gown and heels on a hot sunny day, it’s a climb.

“Yeah, but it has the prettiest view on campus,” said law major Bryce Lauletta of Exton, Pennsylvania, speaking of the emerald-hued athletic fields below and the mountains behind. Lauletta’s used to Memorial Hill — he’s galloped up it a time or two when late for class. The pandemic, he said, “was a wild ride, but the people — there’s a lot of great people here who made (graduating) possible.”

“Little bit scary for everyone,” said Kurlander of the virus. “It’s a time marked by instability, but Amherst has taken good care of us.”

Like hundreds of her fellow grads, Kurlander is a dual major — political science and pre-med. The co-captain of the Mammoth’s lacrosse team said it was a lot to balance. As for the team: “Well, we had no sophomore of junior years, but we went pretty far as freshmen.” She’ll be heading straight to a job at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Her advice? “Just take time, take a breather. The last few years have been so intense.”

The face of the school’s mascot, by the way, a wooly mammoth, appears everywhere, reminding visitors: MASKS ON, TUSKS UP. These current grads have little memory of the old Lord Jeff mascot, a monument to villainy, retired five years ago.

Katherine Lei, a neuroscience major from Plano, Texas, loves the Mammoth. “Animal mascots are cool,” she said. (Her high school teams were the Wildcats.) “We’re moving toward a mascot that represents everyone, not what it used to.” One of the nominees for mascot that still makes her laugh was the Fighting Poets. “Uhhh, no,” she said.

And how often have you seen sheriffs become marshals? Former Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey came out of retirement to do just that, in top hat, tails and staff, urging the 201st Amherst College graduating class to “Please come to order!”

“Praise to the weather,” said college president Biddy Martin, during her last commencement address. “If ever a class deserved to have a beautiful day, it’s this one.”

Of COVID, she said, “We’re still too much in the middle of it, but we’ll come to appreciate what you’ve managed to achieve in spite of it.”

Senior Class Speaker Abdullah Brownel, an economics and political science major from St. Louis, credits his mother for inspiration. “My mom gave me the idea of the ‘dash,’” said the spirited Brownel. “When you read an obituary it starts with the year the deceased was born and the year he passed. But the dash between those two dates — that’s where the story is. Today we celebrate the dash. Our Amherst dash is ongoing.”

Brownel comes from a long line of storytellers, he said, and so he set about telling a few stories, evoking the memories of the college’s earliest heroes, including William Henry Lewis, son of slaves, born in 1863, an All-American football star who rose to U.S assistant attorney general, “at that time the highest office ever held by a Black person. We’re constantly told how little power we have to address change. REJECT that!” said Brownel. “Our dashes are intertwined with the whole world’s.”

He then spoke of wagon trains on the Oregon Trail and how the intrepid travelers would circle the wagons in times of peril. “Look to your left,” said Brownel, “then look to your right (which everyone remarkably did). This is your wagon train.”

Martin, in her closing remarks, recounted some of the highlights of her career as president, foremost among them the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 2019 visit. “I will never forget walking out on that stage with RBG and hosting her in my home,” she said.

During Martin’s speech, one little girl suddenly spotted her older sibling among the sea of black and bolted under the ropes in an effort to be reunited. It was all her dad could do to scoop her up and take her back.

As the grads were about to depart Amherst for the world, Martin paraphrased poet Rainer Maria Rilke, saying, “It’s very easy to destroy institutions but very difficult to build them. So much needs to change but so much needs to be built.”