Caps flying at Commencement
Caps fly as the Mammoth presides.

In a Commencement speech full of references to literature, song and political theory, President Biddy Martin encouraged the class of 2018 to bring “a poetic approach” to politics.

The threat of thunderstorms prompted an 11th-hour rearrangement of the ceremony, in which Martin announced she’d forgo her address to make sure every graduate could walk across the stage. The speech would follow if the rain didn’t, she said, and indeed, during the awarding of degrees, the skies cleared and the sun peeked out.

Martin began by quoting from President John F. Kennedy’s October 1963 speech at Amherst: “When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

One of many decorated commencement caps
Martin urged the audience to follow Kennedy’s example by accepting “our responsibilities as citizens to engage in the political process—however slow and arduous it is … in a way that is guided by principles, informed by evidence and committed to the democratic process.”

She referenced the Algerian-French writer Hélène Cixous, read Richard Wilbur ’42’s poem “A Measuring Worm” and quoted from the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem.”

“At the heart of poetic practice is a use of language that discloses, rather than erasing others,” Martin said. “The liberal arts, including not only the arts and humanities but also the sciences and social sciences, open a space for our exploration and attentiveness to basic human truths so we can make common cause.” Martin’s charge to graduates: “Let the poetic be your guide as you pursue good ends as citizens.”

Class speaker Commencement 2018
Noor Qasim ’18, elected as speaker by her classmates.

Class speaker Noor Qasim ’18 began by saying she is known for how often she cries. “Very often, one of you has been there with me,” she told her classmates. “I have felt, accompanying those tears, a strange and ecstatic sort of joy. To be in this place, with all of you, just trying to figure things out.” 

A Moment of Silence

A moment of silence for Andrew Dorogi
Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein paused during the reading of the names for a moment of silence in memory of Andrew Dorogi ’18, whose degree was awarded posthumously. Dorogi, an economics major and a member of the football team, died in Mexico during spring break. (See In Memory, page 111.)

Most observers probably missed another tribute to his memory: the setting aside of Dorogi’s cane. As new graduates left the stage, each received a Conway Cane, an old College tradition revived by the class of ’03 and now named for Brian J. Conway ’80 and Kevin J. Conway ’80. During the moment of silence, Brian Conway, poised to hand a cane to the next graduate, instead pivoted and set it aside. That cane, he said, belonged to Dorogi.

A Very Long Name

Reece Owen Foy receiving his diploma
Epstein got a high-five after she correctly called Reece Owen Kealaulamalamalamaikeoniakekai Foy to receive his diploma. Every year, graduating seniors can email phonetic pronunciations of their names to the registrar’s office. Epstein does a run-through of every name at rehearsal, to make sure she gets them all right. Foy, a double major in political science and architectural studies, is from Honolulu.

Sticking with Their Team

Four seniors on the women's lacrosse team
The four seniors on the women’s lacrosse team missed commencement to travel to Pennsylvania with their teammates for the NCAA quarterfinals. Their sensational season came to an end that afternoon, as they fell to defending national champion Gettysburg College. The next day, back on campus, President Biddy Martin presented Julia Crerend ’18, Rowena Schenck ’18, Kelly Karczewski ’18 and Dakota Foster ’18 with their degrees as their families looked on.

The Honorees

Amherst awarded honorary doctorates to six luminaries.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of three novels, including Americanah (2013), and many short stories, essays, translations, plays and poems

Danielle Allen, political theorist known for her work on justice and citizenship in ancient Athens and modern America

Morris Dees, civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Sherri Wasserman Goodman ’81, expert on national security as it relates to energy, science, oceans and the environment

Kellie Jones ’81, art historian and curator, whose interests include African American and African diaspora artists and Latinx and Latin American artists

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., known for his work to protect children against environmental health threats


Commencement Weekend 2018

Watch videos, hear audio, and see photos of from Commencement 2018.

Photo Credits: cap flying, Qasim, high five & lacrosse seniors by Takudzwa Tapfuma ’17; Her Story by Maria Stenzel