The Mammoth (00:17):
[music playing] [smartphone rings] [mammoth answers the phone].
Tenzin Kunor (00:17):
While connection and celebration look different these days, that doesn't make all your hard work any less worthy of celebrating.
David Hansen (00:24):
You should be so proud of yourselves after this truly unbelievable year.
Vanessa Fong (00:28):
You are the beginning of a new generation, the Zoomers. Part of a history-making, history-changing cohort.
Jason Robinson (00:38):
Our future is sounding bright in your hands.
Maria Helm (00:41):
We love you. We miss you and we know great things are headed your way.
Matteo Riondato (00:44):
Thank you for inspiring me with your resilience.
Katerina Ragkousi (00:47):
Keep growing. Keep developing.
Randy Valdez (00:49):
This is the beginning. It was a long road but keep going.
Caroline Goutte (00:53):
Stay curious and remember to keep an eye out for silver linings.
Liz Agosto (00:57):
I can't wait to see the good that you will do in our world.
Catherine Epstein (01:00):
I can't wait to call out your name and see you walk across the stage on our quad next spring.
Sarah Turgeon (01:06):
So we can celebrate in-person, properly.
Angie Tissi-Gassoway (01:08):
And don't forget you have a whole herd of a community here to support and cheer you on.
Greg Call (01:14):
Blessings for your future and Godspeed.
Harrison Blum (01:16):
Remember to take time to pause, to be still, to be slow, to be more than do.
Benigno and Karen Sanchez-Eppler (01:24):
Don't forget to bloom.
Austin Sarat (01:28):
The world awaits and it needs your creativity, talent, and irreverence more than ever.
Jeffers Englehardt (01:35):
We'll leave the light on for you back at Amherst.
Anthony Bishop (01:59):
This one's for you! [pops cork on a bottle of champagne]
Biddy Martin (02:33):
Hello everyone. I'm live here in the president's house where I've been sheltering in place with Gabi and Oscar for what seems like a very long time, and you are in many different places, as many as 42 States and territories and 25 countries. Welcome to all of you. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and soon for some of you, good night. I welcome especially the great class of 2020, our faculty and staff, members of the board of trustees and the alumni who've joined us. I wish I could say I'm glad to see you, but in fact I can't see anyone. In a normal year, I would have seen a lot of you, class of 2020, over the past weeks. I would have been treated to a range of thesis performances and presentations. We'd have shared the rituals of senior assembly where I'd be giving you prizes.
Biddy Martin (03:38):
You'd have heard honorary degree speakers, enjoyed receptions in your departments and celebratory parties with your families and friends. I hope you're doing some of that now, the last part. I regret tremendously that you've missed these opportunities and that you've had to deal with the challenges of leaving campus and learning remotely from home. I know you'd rather have been on campus, and we would rather have had you here, but we look forward to next spring for the actual Commencement ceremony. Despite all the hardships that you, your families and so many other people have experienced, you, our seniors, have not only persisted, you have done far more than that. You have excelled. 47% of you completed a thesis this year, up from 37% last year. Two of you are in double summa honors. One of you a summa magna and four of you earned double magna honors. To complete this year successfully at all has taken resilience and a strong sense of purpose. To complete one thesis under these conditions is impressive. To complete two in this particular year at such high honors is remarkable. At least 12 of you have won national awards and that too is outstanding. As Professor Hanson remarked in the intro video, you should be so proud of yourselves at the end of this unbelievable year.
Biddy Martin (05:31):
This is our first and we hope our only virtual celebration of a graduating class, and you have made it very clear that you don't want us to try replicating an actual Commencement ceremony and we won't. We have tried to design something that will bring you pleasure and also honor your achievements, all without taking anything away from the experience we'll have together in a year. Had we been able to hold your Commencement ceremony on campus last week, on Sunday, we'd have had a beautiful day. The festivities would also have coincided with a holiday for our Muslim students and families, the end of Ramadan and the festivals of Eid. I hope all of you who celebrated have an enjoyable breaking of the fast despite social distancing, and that everyone everywhere had a good Memorial day. And now, for the opening of the box. For those of you who did not cheat and open your gifts early, you should open your gift now. [pause]
Biddy Martin (06:50):
Now, as you will see, this box contains some small gifts and some swag for you and your families all to mark your transition today from student to alumni. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our amazing events staff for conceiving of this gift box and to the campus print and mail team who hand-assembled each box and shipped all 450 plus boxes to you. I would have liked to get the RBG tea and the tumbler, and I know where to get them. Now, on behalf of the students and on my own behalf, I want to recognize and thank the scholars and teachers of Amherst College. Their engagement with you, their encouragement and their example have supported your intellectual and personal growth over your years here. And having read the surveys you filled out at the end of this semester, I know how grateful you are to your professors who so quickly made the transition from in-person to online teaching. I know how much you missed them and the close contact with them and other students. In fact, the survey responses you sent make the strongest case I think I've ever read for the importance and the value of residential liberal arts education, and we hope to return to it very soon.
Biddy Martin (08:40):
I hope our faculty's examples of principled inquiry and their commitment to pursuing truth will inspire you as you take your next steps and throughout your lives. You students have pointed out many times that the Amherst College staff also work tirelessly every single day and have worked even since you left to support you, encourage you, help you reach your potential. And so I know you join me in thanking them for the role they've played in your experience at Amherst. And now to the proud parents, grandparents, relatives, guardians, friends and supporters of the class of 2020C we know your support, your love, your guidance provided the foundation for the accomplishments that our students have been able to realize. And we want to thank all of you today and also extend to you our congratulations. And now we have a surprise, a message from a very special guest, someone we're honored to call a friend of the college. She wanted to offer you her good wishes.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (10:11):
Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020 at Amherst College. You completed your education in the midst of a pandemic like no other our nation has ever known. The eerie weeks tested you and your teachers greatly, and you rose to the challenge admirably having carried on undaunted. You should be confident about your capacity to grapple with whatever life brings you away. Your talent and education equip you to thrive in your further studies, work and days. May you use your ability and learning not just in self-regarding ways, but to help repair tears in your communities to make life more sustainable for people in need. And as you progress from knowledge to wisdom, may you experience satisfaction and joy along the way. Every good wish.
Biddy Martin (11:56):
What a generous and wonderful gesture on behalf of Justice Ginsburg. We thank her for being a model of high-minded and high-hearted pursuit of equal justice for all under the law and in the administration of that justice. She inspired us all back in the fall when she visited. Back then I, and probably many of you, thought it might be the most memorable event we've have in the year. And then the pandemic
Biddy Martin (12:35):
And now we want to award the senior prizes. Let us honor members of the class of 2020 who have achieved particular distinction in their years at Amherst. First, the Obed Finch Slingerland Memorial prize. This prize is awarded each year by the trustees of the College to a member of the senior class who has shown, by determination and accomplishment, the greatest appreciation of and desire for a college education. And this year's prize is shared. Justin Chen from Richmond, California, who graduates today with a major in computer science, and Kathleen Despina Krieg from Farmingdale, New York who graduates with a major in biochemistry and biophysics. The Woods-Travis prize is an annual gift in memory of Josiah B. Woods of Enfield, Massachusetts and Charles B. Travis of the class of 1864 and it is awarded for outstanding excellence and culture and faithfulness to duty as a scholar. This year's prize winner is Gregory David Carroll, from Watchung Hills, New Jersey, and Gregory graduates today with a double major in mathematics and philosophy. Our hardy congratulations to Gregory, Justin and Kat and all other senior prize winners. We will celebrate next year at senior assembly. And now it's my great pleasure to introduce the senior chosen by you, the class of 2020, to speak at your commencement next spring. And fortunately for all of us he's going to speak today as well. He is the warm, witty and wonderful Stanley Oscar Dunwell the III from Johns Creek, Georgia. Stanley graduates today with the major in biology.
Stanley Dunwell (15:02):
Y'all we did it.
Stanley Dunwell (15:06):
What did we do?
Stanley Dunwell (15:08):
We're going to be senior speaker.
Stanley Dunwell (15:10):
Stanley Dunwell (15:10):
Shut up. I got to post this.
Stanley Dunwell (15:15):
So what are you going to say?
Stanley Dunwell (15:17):
I don't know. We have to give some sort of brief remark.
Stanley Dunwell (15:20):
Brief like your senior year?
Stanley Dunwell (15:22):
Stanley Dunwell (15:23):
Y'all, seriously, what am I going to say?
Stanley Dunwell (15:26):
Why don't you talk about the imposter syndrome you felt your freshman year?
Stanley Dunwell (15:29):
Yeah, I do remember that.
Stanley Dunwell (15:31):
Why don't you tell the student body why you post Facebook posts?
Stanley Dunwell (15:34):
Stanley Dunwell (15:35):
Does anyone really know why you do it?
Stanley Dunwell (15:38):
That's deep, but for spring of 2021.
Stanley Dunwell (15:41):
Why don't you talk about...[video freezes; "Wifi unavailable" message appears on screen].
Stanley Dunwell (15:44):
Not this again.
Stanley Dunwell (15:45):
Yeah, Biddy? Yes, it's me, Stanley.
Biddy Martin (15:48):
Stanley Dunwell (15:50):
So, we got a problem on our hands.
Biddy martin (15:52):
What's the problem?
New Speaker (15:53):
Biddy Martin (15:53):
Oh dear. Well don't worry. I'll get it fixed for you.
Stanley Dunwell (15:59):
You're going to send two massive Verizon trucks to give us wifi? Okay.
Stanley Dunwell (16:03):
Why don't you talk about the resiliency that is our class? I mean, we overcame so much together.
Stanley Dunwell (16:11):
Y'all, don't worry. I got this.
Stanley Dunwell (16:15):
Hi y'all. I hope you like my little skit, part two and to Biddy I just want to say thank you so much for that lovely introduction. I don't know exactly what you said as yet, but I know it was full of lovely compliments. So thank you. To the class of 2020 and whoever's watching, I just want to say good morning, good afternoon and good night, and to my family in Jamaica: Watagwan. I hope you and all your loved ones are staying safe amidst the global pandemic and the injustices faced in America. I think now more than ever is a time we need to keep our loved ones close and protect those that are vulnerable.
Stanley Dunwell (16:52):
I mean in our years at Amherst who could have predicted this. Class of 2020, we've seen our fair share of obstacles.
Stanley Dunwell (16:58):
Like look where we are right now across the world and kitchens, patios, living rooms, bedrooms. If you're just waking up. And I get it. Like this is definitely not what we wanted and definitely not what we expected. But I'm really glad to be celebrating this moment with y'all today. Despite it all, class of 2020, we did it. Like if that doesn't give you goosebumps, repeat that five times slowly. Do what you gotta do to let that sink in because what we did was amazing. Like we started out amidst a spicy election. We saw the rise of the Science Center, the fall of Merrill. We saw RBG and now we have her tea. Like we have seen and done so much together. And as I reflect on my four years at Amherst, I think back to my freshman year when I didn't really know the power that I had within myself.
Stanley Dunwell (17:52):
I think back to Math 106 and Professor Benedetto's class, when I found out there was a whole high school valedictorian in my class, and I fully thought to myself like the admissions dean must have misplaced their glasses once looking at my application because what was I doing here? And I feel like we've all had that kind of sense where we've lost that power within ourselves, whether it was on an orgo [organic chemistry] exam or an English paper or maybe that last lift in gym. But I think through those years at Amherst we've grown and we've become a class very different from the class we first stepped into at Amherst.
Stanley Dunwell (18:30):
Let's sit in that growth. Let's sit in that dopeness, that flyness, our successes. And what's crazier is we're not even done yet. Amherst has given us the tools, the relationships, the skills to overcome obstacles
Stanley Dunwell (18:43):
we have never even imagined. Like Amherst gave us the strength to overcome obstacles and to carry our Val plates on our own two hands. Like who would have thought? But in all seriousness, Amherst gave us what we needed to become the people we are today. And Amherst gave us the power to flourish into the people we are becoming tomorrow. So that growth is extremely special and important to me. And as we look forward to this next year and this next chapter in our lives, let's not forget to lean into each other, whether that's through FaceTimes, through group chats, through Facebook messages, or maybe even the occasional DM. Do what you have to do to lean into each other. But do not forget to lean into yourself because Amherst gave us the power to overcome it all. So as we lead into each other, do not forget to lean into yourself and the power that is within you.
Stanley Dunwell (19:42):
So I just want to say thank you so much for this opportunity to celebrate today and next spring 2021. I'll continue to spill tea, to entertain and reflect when we all come together again next year. And as I end, I just want to say, I hope everyone is doing okay and is safe mentally and physically. 2020 is a year we will never forget and I cannot even begin to articulate or imagine what we are all feeling right now, especially in this pandemic and the unjust killings of black and brown bodies in America. So please do not forget to reflect, to grieve and do whatever you have to do to take care of yourselves in this time and do not forget to take care of each other. Let's fight to protect what is right and let's make the right mark today and tomorrow. So I just want to say want to say thank you so much. Love y'all, and I'm sending positive vibes. Bye, y'all.
Biddy Martin (20:36):
Thank you for that dope speech. And thanks for letting me know about your network outage.
Biddy Martin (20:46):
We now have yet another extraordinary treat for you,
Biddy Martin (20:52):
Created by our choral director, Dr. Arianna Abela and performed by choral society members from the classes of 1957 through 2023 and from their separate locations around the world, they have joined their voices to sing Three Gifts. It is a beautiful collaboration that they've undertaken for you, class of 2020 and a treat made possible by amazing video and audio engineers. Some of you know, but not all, that the song Three Gifts was written by Lisa Smith, Van der Linden from the class of 1989. Lisa's daughter, Anna is a member of your class, 2020, and graduates today with a degree in psychology. This beautiful song about what is nurtured at Amherst is always performed at convocation and commencement.
Speaker 1 (21:56):
Biddy Martin (25:08):
Thank you, Arianne, and choral society members past and present for that gift to the class of 2020 and to the rest of us. Those woods and mountains and sky of which they sing are yours, students and class of 2020. They are in you now. They are part of you and may your sense of place at Amherst always be a reminder to stretch intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, to keep learning, the capacity for which after all we have such a great gift. One of the hardest things to do I think is to hold a range of complex, sometimes conflicting emotions simultaneously and honor them all and we have a primarily festive celebration for you as is appropriate and yet a more somber note is also necessary.
Biddy Martin (26:25):
My theme is truthfulness and truthfulness as a source of hope and action. To say that this is a difficult time in this country and all over the world is to vastly understate the case. In this country alone, over 100,000 people have already died from COVID-19 and we know there will be more. The virus continues to wreak havoc on lives and economies all over the world. It is a difficult time for everyone because of the pandemic, because of the decimation of lives and livelihoods, but it is also a difficult time because of the extreme forms of inequality and the racism that has been made even more glaringly obvious by the pandemic. And many of us feel a kind of ambient or ambiguous grief. Not only about lives lost, jobs lost, extreme hardship, but also about the erosion of democratic ideals and institutions.
Biddy Martin (27:52):
The 2016 election occurred in your first semester, class of 2020, and we have all been living with it ever since. Some of you have lived with harsher realities since then than others. Those of you on visas from Muslim majority countries, for example, have lived with fear of returning home, knowing that you may not be able to return and complete your studies. DACA students across the country have lived with the threat of a decision that would rob them of the only country they have known as their home. Undocumented students all over the country are exposed to the threat of deportation. Transgender, nonbinary and gay students are living without the support they deserve. Gay students face the rollback of many of the rights that had already been established and trans lives don't have those protections yet. Our students of color have endured overt avowals of white supremacy by those who feel that they've been given license by the statements of our president. All of us are affected by these things. They erode the very possibility of community and of truth, as does the chaos and confusion that follow from the purposeful spread of mis- and dis-information.
Biddy Martin (29:42):
Last night I attended the 50th reunion celebration of the class of 1970. This was a class that attended Amherst in another time of social and political ferment. The period of the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the riots that followed Dr. King's assassination. The still early phases of the women's movement and the beginnings in major cities of a gay rights movement that had not yet reached Amherst. The Vietnam war, and its escalation. When I met with the class of '70 last night, I was moved by the friendships and the community bonds they have preserved and built over time and which they have built on the ground of a shared experience and a shared sense of what was true in their time and what's true now. I was moved by the openness with which they spoke with one another about personal tragedies and losses they have experienced since leaving Amherst. Their strong sense of community is a kind of promise for you, class of 2020. I hope you will also preserve and build new friendships and nurture a strong sense of community with one another—and that you will stay close to the college. It is your college.
Biddy Martin (31:26):
The class of '70 had sent me some video recordings of programs they planned for the reunion on campus that was supposed to occur this weekend. They decided to hold those programs virtually. I was heartened again there by the openness they shared in the sessions and the panels they had organized. I was inspired by the transformations they described, the transformations that came out of loss and tragedy, hardship and grief. Those transformations came when the losses were properly named and properly grieved and that was the message they left in their programs. It would help us all to acknowledge more openly our shared sense of loss and our own vulnerabilities. We do not have the example in the leader of our country of a genuine propensity to acknowledge and mourn loss or to admit a failure or imperfection. Instead, we're told that strength is the absence of vulnerability, imperfection, or error. But the denial of vulnerability and loss can be a calamity for the people who live in denial and we are seeing that the denial of truth and reality, the contempt for science and the hatred of expertise, can be a calamity for everyone in the deniers' orbit.
Biddy Martin (33:14):
In your first month on campus, some of you gathered in the gym to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of a book called Between the World and Me, which Coates wrote as a letter to his son about the struggle of Black Americans against racism. He writes in that book with searing honesty about the limits of his ability to protect his son from police violence, from everyday offenses. I want to read you a passage that seems particularly appropriate here today, and I quote Ta-Nehisi Coates:
I am sorry I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you—but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable…You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life….The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact. The struggle is really all I have for you because it is the only portion of this world under your control.
Biddy Martin (35:13):
People who think they're white, in Coates' writing, are those who believe their whiteness confers a kind of immunity or protection from contingency or that it should at least, but it doesn't and it won't. Today I simply want to mention the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and there are so many others, so many other names to say. We have to work really hard to be truthful with ourselves as well as with others to name what we’re seeing and what we know in order to restore the sanity that comes from a shared reality. We’ve got to work together to restore American ideals to their proper place. Freedom and equality, the rule of law, the separation of powers. We have got, together, to advocate for knowledge, science, reason, and the forms of discourse that as Hannah Arendt tells us, make the world human. Those who seem to wish to destroy the very possibility of truth must be countered by the rest of us, by the ability you've learned, seniors, at Amherst, to make distinctions, to reason through difficult problems, to acknowledge complexity, to use capacious and beautiful language, to hold complex and even conflicting emotions simultaneously, and to focus on shared purpose.
Biddy Martin (37:17):
I hope you'll start by helping ensure that everyone in this country has their right to vote, that we all have a right to fair elections and, however small a gesture it may seem to you right now, we must all make sure we vote. I think you will be the generation that renews civic responsibility and demands the changes that have been needed for so long and you won't work alone on these things. There are people all over this country, millions of them, largely invisible, who know that shared reality is possible, who know that the pursuit of truth is essential, and who are determined to do their part.
Biddy Martin (38:21):
Now, let me tell you about the animation you're about to see. It's a video that we invited some virtual friends to help us make and it will give you a sense of what's about to occur. Class of 2020 I present a mammoth graduation,
The Mammoth (38:46):
[the animated mammoth processes to the stage, where it joins the faculty, faces the audience, receives its diploma and then all of the mammoths toss their caps into the air where they form together into the shape of a heart]
Biddy Martin (39:46):
Mammoth herd, 2020, the moment that I hope you've been waiting for, that you've worked so hard to reach, the conferral of your degrees. The faculty has voted and our provost and Dean of the Faculty, Catherine Epstein has certified that all candidates approved by the faculty have fulfilled the requirements for the bachelor of arts degree. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Amherst College, I confer upon each one of the graduates the degree of bachelor of arts with all the rights and privileges pertaining there too. Class of 2020, congratulations again, congratulations to your proud families and friends around the world. Remember our motto: Terras irradient. Be a light in the world. Bring light to the world. You couldn't be here today, not in person, but just know that you've left your mark, an indelible mark on this College and made it better, and your presence will always be felt here. I look forward to seeing you next spring for your actual Commencement ceremony and all the rituals that proceeded. But before we conclude, we have one more video for you, and this video invites you to join me on campus virtually, of course, to see how we have created your presence here in a virtual way on the Quad. Be well, class of 2020.