Convocation ceremony in Johnson Chapel

In a Sept. 4 Convocation address, Amherst President Biddy Martin discussed the College’s responsibilities as a diverse intellectual community and underlined the College’s commitment to its students, regardless of national origin or immigration status.

“You’re beginning this semester at a very troubled time,” she told new first-year students, faculty and staff. Amherst’s values are “at odds with some of what’s being done and said at the national level,” she continued. But hope lies “in our interactions with each other and in our efforts to respect and to trust one another in this community.”

Community and friendship were themes of Martin’s address. Behind the podium in Johnson Chapel, a word cloud prominently projected five words—“Friendship,” “Community,” “Intellectual,” “Diversity” and “Support”—all of which had emerged in a poll as concepts especially important to the new students.

Biddy Martin and a word cloud banner - the list of words is at the end of this story

Above the stage in Johnson Chapel was a banner displaying this “word cloud,” which emerged from
a student poll during Orientation. (Full text of the word cloud is at the bottom of this page.)

Friendship is not only a private good, but also a “civic necessity” that allows us to make wise judgments together, Martin said: “It is only our confidence and trust in one another, and our willingness to be forthright about our principles and our goals, that will allow us to come to good decisions when decisions are necessary.”

And in today’s political climate, she said, “we have to dedicate ourselves as strongly as ever, perhaps more strongly than ever, to truth-seeking, which is, after all, the purpose of academic freedom and academic pursuit.” Urging all in the room to “call out lies when we hear them,” she described truthfulness and the pursuit of truth as no less than a “sacred responsibility.”

Martin expressed her opposition to the Trump Administration’s impending plan, announced the next morning, to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, she said, has allowed young people to live in the open as they pursue education and contribute to a nation that “they have every reason to consider their own.”

“First and foremost, we stand for the education and the welfare of our students,” Martin said. “Every student on this campus belongs here, every student on this campus deserves our support.”

Echoing statements she would make in a letter to the community, Martin pledged that the College will keep its commitments to “all of our students, regardless of what resources they have, regardless of their immigration status. We will meet every student’s full financial need, whether that student is an American citizen, a permanent resident, an international student or an undocumented immigrant. We will find ways to do that, should federal funds be rescinded.”

Video: Biddy Martin’s Convocation Address

September 4, 2017

“We have to dedicate ourselves as strongly as ever, perhaps more strongly than ever, to truth-seeking.” Watch President Martin’s full Convocation address. — video by Marcus DeMaio [Read the transcript.]

She said that “barring a lawfully issued subpoena or a judicial order,” the College will not share students’ records without their permission. Campus police, she added, will not inquire about anyone’s legal status and will take no part in Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions.

In addition to the president’s address, the annual Convocation ceremony included the conferring of honorary degrees on recently promoted full professors, as well as performances by the Choral Society. Martin and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein conferred degrees on Andrew C. Dole (from the Department of Religion), Adam David Honig (Economics), Michael E. Hood (Biology), Hilary Moss (Black Studies, History), Leah Caroline Schmalzbauer (Anthropology and Sociology, American Studies, Latinx and Latin American Studies) and Paul A. Schroeder Rodriguez (Spanish, Latinx and Latin American Studies).

In an extemporaneous closing that drew a standing ovation, Martin vowed to play her part in fighting the kind of bigotry she said she witnessed growing up in rural Virginia.

“We have to fight together to avoid letting these forms of hatred, discrimination [and] bigotry take root,” she said. “We’re not going to always approach the fight in ways that are the same. We’re not always going to agree about the means or about exactly what’s entailed.” But it’s a fight “we all have to enter, in whatever way we consider right, appropriate, and in accord with our principles. And the College will do everything possible to make sure that we stand with those of you who fight against the encroachment of bigotry in the United States.”

Watch the video and read the full transcript of President Biddy Martin’s speech.

The crowd during the Convocation ceremony in Johnson Chapel

Word Cloud

These words appeared in the “word cloud” banner, displayed above the stage in Johnson Chapel:

Friendship, diversity, community, support, excellence, care, enjoyment, intellectual, academic, caring, fun, arts, take, empathy, enjoy, education, opportunity, responsibility, understanding, compassion, challenge, educational, thoughtful, scholarship, mammoth, calling, happiness, attentiveness, passion, thinking, inclusion, others, diverse, integrity, virtue, patient, friends, liberal, yourself, ethic, good, humility, change, mistakes, mammoths, civic, time, tweet, also, amherst, rigor, learn, imperfect, respect, think, risk, twitter, patience, versatile, learning, tolerance.