May 25, 2003
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-Under cloudy skies, 415 men and women received bachelor of arts degrees today at Amherst College. Amherst President Tom Gerety, who will step down as president at the end of June after nine years, in his traditional address, asked the graduates to ask what the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates might think about the case of José Padilla, an American citizen accused of collaboration with Al Qaeda terrorists, being held without being charged. "The question for you as citizens," Gerety told the graduates, "is do we need to suspend the Bill of Rights to make the United States safe from terror?" He concluded, "Even in the midst of danger, we should never fear questions and arguments," and urged the class to remain "stubborn in the face of the world." Gerety will now become the executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.
Sarah W. Walker '03, a double major in English and fine arts from West Hartford, Conn., confessed in her remarks to a "nostalgia for things I haven't really done" in college and urged her classmates, who chose her to speak, to remember their friends and all they learned from each other.
Nine honorary degrees were also awarded at the ceremony-to Roseanne Haggerty '82, housing activist, Asma Jahangir, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and human rights activist; LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., surgeon and cancer specialist; Charles Ashby Lewis '64, banker, life trustee of Amherst College and chair of its recent comprehensive campaign; Minoru Oya, chancellor of The Doshisha in Japan; Gordon Parks, filmmaker, composer and photographer; Gary Alan Sinise, actor, director and producer; and Peter Morrison Vitousek '71, environmental biologist. Tom Gerety also received an honorary degree.
The college also honored Douglas Wilson '62 with the Medal for Eminent Service. Wilson became associate secretary of the college in 1975, and in 1977 rose to the position of secretary. For the next 21 years carried the responsibility for college publications, Amherst magazine, the Amherst College Press, media relations and official events such as inaugurations, memorial services, convocations and commencements-including every annual commencement until this one. He was named college editor in 1998.
Reshaping a 19th-century tradition, the college presented each member of the Class of 2003 with a new Senior Class Cane. Jose Abad '03, an English major from Amherst, Mass., Benjamin Baum '03, a history and European Studies major from Plymouth, Mass., and Ciona van Dijk '03, a philosophy and psychology major from Glenwood Spring, Colo., members of the Friends of the Amherst College Library Student Activities Committee, originated the plan.
At Senior Class Exercises at LeFrak Gymnasium yesterday, Saturday, May 24, Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir, chosen by the Class of 2003 to speak, offered a "salute to the international peace movement," which she called the "revolution of the century." "There is now no such thing as a single national interest," she said, in a talk that urged the graduates to embrace the "good side of globalization."
Jahangir, chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, is a United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings. The commission is an independent body of lawyers and activists who defend the basic human rights of women, children and religious minorities in Pakistan. Her work with the U.N. has taken Jahangir to Afghanistan, Central America and Colombia.
Benjy Caplan '03, an English major from New York City, offered humorous remarks, and Sarah M. Miller '03, a chemistry major from Dayton, Ohio, recalled the successes of the Class of 2003.
The Association of Amherst Students gave Distinguished Teaching Awards to David W. Blight, the Class of 1959 Professor of History and Black Studies, and Frederick T. Griffiths, the Class of 1880 Professor of Greek (Classics) and women's and gender studies.
The college awarded student prizes yesterday. The Howard Hill Mossman Trophy, awarded annually to the member of the senior class, who has brought, during his or her four years at Amherst, the greatest honor in athletics to his or her alma mater, the word "honor" to be interpreted as relating both to achievement and to sportsmanship, was given to Brooke K. Diamond '03 of Longmeadow, Mass.
The Psi Upsilon Prize was established by the Gamma Chapter of Psi Upsilon in 1941 on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Chapter. The prize was awarded to Melissa K. Mordy '03 of Issaquah, Wash., and Piercarlo Valdesolo '03 of Andover, Mass., members of the graduating class considered preeminent in scholarship, leadership, athletics and character.
The Obed Finch Slingerland Memorial Prize, given by the trustees of the college to a member of the senior class, who has shown by his or her own determination and accomplishment the greatest appreciation of and desire for a college education, was awarded to Sheila Graham '03 of Nyack, N.Y.
The Woods-Travis Prize, an annual gift in memory of Josiah B. Woods of Enfield and Charles B. Travis of the Class of 1864, is awarded for outstanding excellence in culture and faithfulness to duty as a scholar. It went to Ryan Welch '03 of Baltimore, Md.
The college presented Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Awards on behalf of graduating seniors to secondary school teachers -- Frederic (Ted) Fitts '74, a history teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I., nominated by Jesse Freedman '03; Jennifer Greeley, an English teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, Mass., nominated by Rocio Digon '03; James P. Spellicy, an economics and history teacher at Lowell High School in San Francisco, Calif., nominated by Yu-Hsuan Lee '03; and Margaret Wong, a Chinese teacher at Breck School in Minneapolis, Minn., nominated by Michael Proman '03.
Nine employees of Amherst College were named honorary members of the Class of 2003: Stan Adams of South Deerfield, Mass., the special services coordinator in the physical plant; Dave Cetto of Amherst, Mass., a server in the dining hall; Hermenia Gardner of Gafney, S.C., the retiring affirmative action officer; Donald Kells of Montague, Mass., the postmaster; Frederick P. Kucharski of Hadley, Mass., a custodian; Florent Masse of New York, N.Y., a former language assistant in French; Maria N. Rello of Easthampton, an athletic trainer; Björn Szostak of Göttingen, Germany, a language assistant in German; and Tom Gerety of Amherst, Mass., the departing president of the college.
Commencement Information and Schedule