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Speakers urge community, social justice at Hampshire College commencement

  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor delivers the keynote address during commencement, Saturday at Hampshire College. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hampshire College graduate Victoria Lucia wait for the start of commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash speaks during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Gaye Hill, who is the chair of the board of trustees, speaks during commencement, Saturday at Hampshire College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ellen Sturgis, who is the chair of the Alumni Advisory Group, delivers the alumni address during commencement, Saturday at Hampshire College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash speaks during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hampshire College graduates Namrata Jacob, left, and Charisse DelVecchio share a podium for their student addresses during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • George Blalock, right, receives his diploma from Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ella Richardson, right, receives her diploma from Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sofia Anastasia Giles-Hnida, right, receives her diploma from Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash during commencement, Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jack Corcoran, right, receives his diploma from Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Derek Cote, right, hugs Daniel Pearl after they received their diplomas during commencement, Saturday at Hampshire College. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Grace Kittredge, right, receives her diploma from Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash during commencement, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



For the Bulletin
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

AMHERST — Families filled white tents at Hampshire College Saturday to watch the 306 graduating students finish a four-year trek to getting a degree.

Mild warmth and a light breeze kept the shaded tent temperate, raising spirits of students, faculty and family.

Board of trustees chairwoman Gaye Hill opened the ceremony with congratulations, both to the students and to the families who supported them on their way to graduating. Hill urged students to put their educations — and time — toward social justice work and community building, a theme that continued with each speaker throughout the commencement.

“It’s wild seeing people I’ve known since first year graduate,” said graduate Mikaela Gonzalez, 22, who carried a flag as part of the commencement. “I am repping my flag — Mexico; I am pretty proud about that. Especially under [President Donald] Trump, being able to rock it on stage is exciting.”

Following Hill was Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash. Lash spoke on Hampshire’s alternative curriculum that promotes portfolios and narrative evaluations rather than grades, and its importance in politically and economically tumultuous times.

Quoting educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, Lash echoed an attitude toward education that contrasts with the narrative of standardized testing in schools: “Education occurs when a teacher risks an act of love.”

Lash painted a bright picture of the future for Saturday’s graduates.

“70 percent of you will get jobs that haven’t been invented yet,” he said. “Many of you won’t get jobs, you’ll create them.”

Next came student speakers, former RAs and best friends Namrata Jacob and Charisse DelVecchio, who spoke together. Their speech added to the theme of community building, and urged graduates toward active resistance against racism and oppressive structures — and they did it with a humorous flair.

“Before we do our speech, we have a bone to pick with the class of 2017,” Jacob said. “What were you all thinking putting me and Charisse on the same stage and entrusting us with the power to address a huge body of people?”

After the jokes, the speech took a more serious tone.

“Like most of you, the RAs at Hampshire acknowledged that Hampshire College severely lacks any sort of community group or feeling, and we were supposed to respond to that and figure out what to do about that,” DelVecchio said. “I guess it’s safe to say that we spent a lot of time thinking about community.”

Jacob continued the thought.

“We’ve learned that surviving and thriving is about more than building community, it is about love,” she said. “We hear a lot about radical self care at Hampshire, and we talk a lot about taking space for ourselves and cutting out toxic ties — and while we have every right to do that, it facilitates becoming trapped in our own selves, bodies and our own heads.”

Keynote speaker Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton and author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation,” spoke on similar themes, but with a much more political tone. Her speech addressed a normalization of violence and racism that lead to the Trump presidency, which she said reflects American society as a whole.

“The president of the United States, the most powerful politician in the world, is a racist megalomaniac,” Taylor said. “It is not a benign observation, but has meant tragic consequences for many people in our country — from terror-inducing raids in the communities of undocumented immigrants to his disparaging of refugees in search of freedom and respite. He has empowered an attorney general who embraces and promulgates policies that have already proven to have had a devastating impact of black families and communities.” 

Taylor called on graduates — and everyone else — to work together in dismantling racist systems and shifting public attitudes towards marginalized people in the U.S.

To push the point, Taylor quoted activists like Martin Luther King Jr. — “There is nothing more tragic than sleeping through a revolution” — and called on the “regular people” in the audience to fight for what is right.

“History reminds us that regular people — not the elites, the wealthy or well-connected, but the regular people — have won against more trying odds than we face today,” Taylor said. ”History reminds us that every important reform from the end of slavery, to the eight-hour workday, to the right to vote and beyond has come from the struggles of normal people.”

Ellen Sturgis, class of 1977, gave the alumni address, representing alumni from the first decade of Hampshire College. In her short speech, Sturgis reinforced the idea of donating to Hampshire post-graduation and reminded students of the network of Hampshire alumni they can leverage for future opportunities.

Sturgis also represented the unorthodox manner of Hampshire, wearing no formal graduation apparel aside from her Master of Business Administration hood.

She reminisced on her graduation, where students crossed the stage in costumes, barefoot or with their pets — a tradition that has not changed. Students paraded across the stage, wearing anything from a suit or graduation robe to bedazzled one-piece outfits and casual wear.

“Whether they wear caps or costumes, the day is about us,” said graduate Yvonne Hamisi, 22. Hamisi, the student moderator for the commencement, studied public health on a pre-med track.

“My family is excited — they know that not a lot of people have the privilege of going to school, especially in Africa, because of financial reasons,” Hamisi said. “So they are really happy they were able to help me out and make it to this area.”