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Hampshire College graduates told: ‘You are ready’

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, with cap, watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her parents, Stefan Petrucha, left, and Zeffa Kinney, right, and her sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, left, gets a nudge from her sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, as they spot a picture of her during the slideshow intro to the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday. They are joined by their parents, Zeffa Kinney, background, and Stefan Petrucha, at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, with cap, watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her parents, Stefan Petrucha, left, and Zeffa Kinney, right, and her sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, right, watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her mother, Zeffa Kinney, left, and sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, with cap, watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her parents, Zeffa Kinney, left, and Stefan Petrucha, and her sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her mother, Zeffa Kinney, left, and sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, at their home in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha, right, watches the college’s virtual commencement ceremony Saturday with her sister, Maia Kinney-Petrucha, a 2017 alum of Hampshire, at their parents’ house in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2020

AMHERST — It certainly wasn’t the commencement that Hampshire College graduate Margo Kinney-Petrucha imagined she’d have.

Gazing up at the family television while sitting on the floor of her living room along with her parents and sister on Saturday morning, Kinney-Petrucha unwillingly traded the pomp and circumstance of a physical graduation for a virtual ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was definitely weird,” said Kinney-Petrucha, 22, after the commencement. “It didn’t feel real, it didn’t feel like the actual graduation — it was just sort of a substitute. But they did a nice job with it.”

In an event almost as nontraditional as the college’s unique academics, Hampshire College celebrated its 50th spring commencement ceremony Saturday — honoring the 289 graduating members of the Class of 2020 over a Zoom webinar, on Facebook and on YouTube as they were awarded their bachelor of arts degrees in the middle of a global pandemic.

Since 1970, 12,394 people have graduated from Hampshire College. The school has no majors; students design their own areas of study while being mentored by faculty, culminating in a yearlong independent advanced study project called a Division III that is completed during a student’s fourth year.

From his New York City apartment, Hampshire College board of trustees chair and college alum Jose Fuentes welcomed viewers to the virtual commencement and asked graduates not to let “the absence of a large audience or the applause of hundreds to take away from the palpable excitement of the appreciative and grateful global crowd cheering you on.”

“While this year’s commencement is occurring during this jarring new normal, our core understanding and experience of the college is not shaken,” Fuentes said. “A Hampshire education is one of a kind. Hampshire is the only college where your education is truly what you make of it.”

For her Division III project, Kinney-Petrucha wrote a two-hour musical called “Final Boss” centered on four college students facing graduation who bond over a video game. Animations from the game were meant to be cast behind actors, but when COVID-19 hit, she adapted and instead created a “radio” version of the musical with the planned animation and posted part of it on YouTube. She graduated with a concentration in mixed media and creative writing and eventually hopes to get her play produced.

“The way Hampshire frames it, it’s about fostering your own creativity and figuring out what you want to do,” Kinney-Petrucha said. “You’re going to figure out exactly who you are and what you want to do, even if it’s not conventional.”

Kinney-Petrucha said she feels both happy and sad at the fact that she’s graduated from college, but that there’s also a “weird numbness” because she wants something else to look forward to. She said there has been discussion of potentially bringing the class back to campus to celebrate in-person in the fall.

During the commencement, Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach touted the school’s educational philosophy and graduates’ interdisciplinary skills as especially applicable to addressing novel situations such as the current pandemic.

The public health crisis presents challenges that “do not fit neatly into disciplinary silos,” Wingenbach noted, saying that the school has both prepared graduates to “use fluid, entrepreneurial approaches to deal with complexity and uncertainty, and supports you as you develop creative solutions.”

“You are ready, in a way that no other college graduates are or could be,” Wingenbach said.

Wingenbach said he experienced a “moment of shocked recognition” earlier this week while signing diplomas, noting that “a year ago, nobody knew if anyone would ever get a Hampshire diploma again.” Faced with financial uncertainty, the college is leading a five-year, $60 million fundraising campaign that has raised $13.4 million to date.

“Hampshire College is still here, because many of you insisted it must be,” he said.

Visiting assistant professor of creative writing and 1994 alum thúy lê gave the faculty address and Jim Patten was the staff speaker. Graduating student speaker Rejjia Camphor said she was grateful for finding support among other black students at the school.

“While black people are few on this campus, seeing a small community of us connect with one another within our own passions and our own spoonfuls of wisdom and personalities, it has been a pleasure,” Camphor said.

As the names of each graduating student flashed across the screen in the ceremony’s final 30 minutes, each was read aloud. One of those students was 21-year-old Berit Brown of Northampton, who said she and her roommate, also a Hampshire graduate, used video chat to watch the ceremony with their families. Brown’s concentration was marketing, media studies and web design.

Brown said they made graduation caps out of cardboard Friday night and went to the Smith College Botanical Gardens on Saturday to take graduation photos for her family. She said she wasn’t looking forward to the actual ceremony that much, and that not having her family come to see her graduate was “a little bit of a letdown.”

Nevertheless, with her diploma soon in hand, Brown said she’s feeling positive about the day’s events.

“I still got to hear the same speeches and experience that joy,” she said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.