‘We, if we are lucky, are always on our way’: Mount Holyoke College graduates 577

  • The Mt Holyoke Class of 2022 takes a seat after their processional at the Kendall Sports & Dance Complex during the 185th annual commencement exercises at Mt Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2022

  • Members of the Mount Holyoke class of 2022 take their seats after the processional at the Kendall Sports & Dance Complex during the college’s 185th annual commencement exercises in South Hadley on Sunday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Mount Holyoke class of 2022 graduate and Rhodes Scholar Elena Frogameni, left, of Northampton walks on stage to receive her degree Sunday during commencement ceremonies. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Mt Holyoke Graduates Paola Jaramilho, Suzannah Gray, and Kathya Grayton-Heinz await their turn to receive their bachelor's degrees Sunday at the Mt Holyoke Commencement Ceremonies in South Hadley, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2022

Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — Mount Holyoke College’s graduation was packed with distinguished speakers and honored graduates, as evidenced by the thick program informing attendees about the students’ accomplishments as they prepared to receive their diplomas.

But amid a heat wave expected to break high-temperature records across the region, many of the hundreds of families and students gathered in the Kendall Sports & Dance Complex used those programs as makeshift fans.

“It’s hot in here,” said Lauren Fuller, 22, who was waiting in line upstairs with her fellow students as they prepared to walk into the ceremony.

Fuller said she felt excited but also sad about her time at Mount Holyoke coming to a close — feelings echoed by Alex Fuselier, 23, who stood together with Fuller. The two were both first-generation college students, and were excited to have their loved ones in South Hadley to witness the big day.

“It’s a big achievement,” Fuselier said.

Fuller and Fuselier were two of 577 undergraduates and around 70 graduate students to matriculate on Sunday — Mount Holyoke’s 185th graduation ceremony.

Though college President Sonya Stephens is leaving the college in August, because of the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic it wasn’t her last commencement; Mount Holyoke will hold a commencement ceremony for its 2020 class on May 29, giving those students the celebration they never got to have after the early days of the pandemic scattered them from campus and canceled their commencement.

“Wherever the winding path, the long vistas and the forward motion may take you next, I wish you lives of continuing inquiry and meaningful pursuit, and opportunities of great purpose and transformation,” Stephens told the speakers.

The student address was given by Nicole Devon Haswell, a Chicopee native who was one of the students of nontraditional age to attend the college as a Frances Perkins scholar. She said that as a transfer student from Holyoke Community College, she looked for a college with a strong community.

“I made the right choice,” she said, tearing up. “I encountered students who did not hesitate to help this 40-something-year-old woman find her way around campus, who did not hesitate to help me in maneuvering some technology I may not have been familiar with, and who were authentically themselves in every way.”

The college gave honorary degrees to four distinguished guests on Sunday: Pulitzer Prize-winning Mojave American poet Natalie Diaz; author, civil rights activist and Mount Holyoke graduate Katherine Butler Jones; Susannah Sirkin, the director of international policy engagement with the organization Physicians for Human Rights and also an alumna of the college; and the critically acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong of Northampton.

Butler Jones noted that in her class of 1957, she was the only black student.

“At times I was lonely,” she said in a pre-recorded address. But now, she said, students at the college benefit from a diverse campus. “Everywhere you go, you should insist that robust diversity exists in the places you work, worship and pray.”

Sirkin, who graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1976, noted that when she was a first-year student, those on campus celebrated the Supreme Court decision in the Roe v. Wade case — the landmark ruling that protected a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Reporting from the news organization Politico has revealed that the Supreme Court is now poised to strike down that ruling, according to a leaked draft of a decision that will be handed down later this year.

“Fifty years later, we are gearing up to protect our bodies and the doctors and nurses who care for us,” Sirkin said.

Vuong told those gathered Sunday that he chose to become a poet for many of the reasons it has been “so thoroughly denigrated” nowadays — there’s no money, future or “real job” in it.

“But poetry’s value is its very assumed frivolity, that is: if language is a means to deliver information, thereby making it a kind of bridge, then poetry is where the bridge is no longer something we cross on our way to more legitimate destinations, but might become itself a destination,” Vuong said before connecting the metaphor to the students’ own journey. “This, too, is the reality of your graduation: it is not the star on the map but a bridge—one where I meet you with the hopes that the bridge extends across your entire life. For we, if we are lucky, are always on our way.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.