Despite no on-campus ceremony this year, no lack of commemoration
The pandemic forced many institutions to postpone 2020 Commencement ceremonies or move them into online spaces, but it didn't stop Hampshire College from recognizing each graduate's remarkable, original achievement this year. In its 50th spring Commencement, held Saturday, May 16, as a Zoom webinar livestreamed to thousands of viewers on social media, the College celebrated 289 bachelor of arts awardees.
Capping a semester during which many upcoming graduates had to vacate campus early and missed the beloved tradition of ringing the Div Free bell — a much anticipated event marking the completion of their yearlong Division III thesis projects — the College moved to honor students' accomplishments as festively as possible.
For its 90-minute virtual ceremony, Hampshire’s Dean of Faculty, Eva Rueschmann, read every graduate’s name, each of which was also displayed on-screen with the titles of their Div III. Here are just a few examples of the diverse and highly individual projects.
Hampshire Chair of the Board Jose Fuentes 05F delivered welcome remarks and the annual alum speech, reminding graduates that they were supported by a virtual crowd cheering them on from around the world. Fuentes, an educational technology entrepreneur speaking from his home in New York City, said, “We don’t need to all be seated under a tent on campus to acknowledge your accomplishments and to celebrate you,” then added: “You will return to ring that bell.”
Officiating his first Commencement as Hampshire President, Ed Wingenbach told the graduates they were finishing their college careers after the most challenging period in the College’s history. Wingenbach applauded them, saying, “Every one of you was given every opportunity to fail, every excuse to give up, and every reason to take an easier path. You persisted. You worked the problems. You demonstrated and organized.”
Dressed officially in presidential regalia, Wingenbach continued, “You did what every Hampshire College graduate has done for fifty years: you faced uncertainty, embraced radical freedom, learned from failure, and, with the help and support of mentors and colleagues in the staff, faculty, and community, created something entirely your own, something of quality, beauty, and meaning.”
Hampshire’s values were captured in a moving speech by popular Post Office Assistant Jim Patten, chosen by graduates to deliver the annual staff speech. Addressing them from a computer in the R.W. Kern Center, Patten invoked the spirit of Hampshire founder and first postmaster Bob Stiles as he recognized all fellow staff, faculty, students, alums, administrators, and donors for working together to stabilize the College this past year.
Take your years at Hampshire. . .and all the people and all the moments, cup them like a flame, and let them become the lantern by which you go out into the world, looking for yourself, yes, but always in relation to other beings, living, human, and otherwise.
thúy lê 90F, visiting assistant professor of creative writing
Delivering the faculty speech was Hampshire alum thúy lê 90F, visiting assistant professor of creative writing, who drew inspiration from her mother and their Vietnamese ancestry: “Take your years at Hampshire, between the uproar over the flag burning, the alarm of last spring, and the stifled silence of this pandemic; this last year of intense, durational work in which you sought to realize on the page or the stage or the screen, in the lab or in the field, individually or in collaboration, the crystallization of all you’ve been thinking and doing; take those years by the hand, and all the people and all the moments, cup them like a flame, and let them become the lantern by which you go out into the world, looking for yourself, yes, but always in relation to other beings, living, human, and otherwise.”
The student speaker chosen by her fellow graduates was Rejjia Camphor 16F, who celebrated her classmates with a confident, passionate speech: “We deserve this moment: We've all worked so long and so hard for this moment, we’ve laughed to keep from crying, laughed till we were crying, danced, sung, partied, sat in, marched, shouted, and protested for this moment. We’ve shaken people with our plays, our poems, our films, our art, our research, our numbers, our minds, our dreams, and even our traumas.”
Thanking not only her Hampshire professors and classmates but also those throughout the Five Colleges, Camphor said she was inspired in her studies by Ytasha Womack, acclaimed author of such works as Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture and a champion of Afrofuturism. “[Womack] said that desire, hope, and imagination are the cornerstones of social change, and knew undoubtedly that those three things would always be the first targets for those who fight against it and against liberation. Is that not how we all got here? Were you not drawn in by a desire to ‘disrupt higher education’? Did we not all hope to impede on institutional violences? To use our imaginations to discover new possibilities and change the world?”
Per tradition, the artwork for the Commencement program and the poster was designed by a graduating student, Abbie Bevan 16F, who titled her illustration “From the Cracks Grew Roses.”
Following Commencement, some of this year’s graduates still in Amherst stopped by the Dean of Faculty office to pick up their circular diploma, designed in 1975 by alum Barbara Lancaster 70F. Other graduates received their diploma by mail.
Since enrolling its first students, in 1970, Hampshire now boasts an alum community of 15,000 people worldwide.
The 2020 virtual ceremony was produced by the Dean of Faculty’s office, led by Yaniris Fernandez, associate vice president of Academic Affairs; and a Commencement committee of staff members from across the College. The livestream ceremony is archived for viewing on Hampshire's YouTube channel.