Canes, Smoked Turkey and Diplomas: Fun Facts About Amherst College’s 187th Commencement

Submitted by Caroline J. Hanna

May 22, 2008
Contact: Caroline J. Hanna
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—On Sunday, May 25, Amherst College will celebrate its 187th Commencement at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The exercises—which will feature addresses from college president Anthony W. Marx and senior Daniel J. Cluchey and the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 445 graduates and honorary degrees to seven distinguished guests—are expected to attract more than 5,000 friends and family members to the town of Amherst for the weekend.

The honorands and their degrees include Robert H. Brown Jr. ’69, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Day Neuromuscular Research Laboratory and Muscular Dystrophy Association clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, doctor of science; Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, doctor of humane letters; Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, doctor of laws; Henry A. Freedman ’62, executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, doctor of laws; Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton University, doctor of humane letters; Sir Brian Urquhart, former undersecretary-general of the United Nations, doctor of humane letters; and Saraswathi Vedam ’78, professor and director of the University of British Columbia’s division of midwifery, doctor of science.
What follows are a few fun facts about Amherst’s Class of 2008 and the weekend’s activities.

World Class
This year’s graduates hail from 41 states, the District of Columbia, and 17 foreign countries. Nations represented by the seniors include Brazil, France, Ghana, Jamaica, Romania and Vietnam.

Majorly popular
The most commonly declared areas of study for the Class of 2008 are economics, English, political science, psychology and history.

Phi Beta Kappa
Forty-four seniors were elected into the college’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the U.S. Three were elected in March of 2007, 16 last October and 25 this month.

Senior theses
A whopping 230 members of the Class of 2008—more than half of this year’s graduates—have completed senior thesis projects or papers of their own design.

And the award goes to…
As of Wednesday, May 21, at least 15 seniors had been awarded prestigious fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Eight were awarded J. William Fulbright Fellowships for study and teaching abroad, five received French Government Teaching Assistantships to serve as instructors in French primary and secondary schools, and two were honored with Thomas J. Watson Fellowships to support a year of independent study and travel abroad.

Watch out real world, here comes Amherst
Even in a competitive market, members of the Class of 2008 are finding jobs, enrolling in graduate school programs, volunteering for nonprofits and taking the world by storm. Graduates have accepted offers at the Department of Justice, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood, an East Harlem school, Lehman Brothers, the University of Virginia School of Law, the Peace Corps, Teach for America and a wildlife sanctuary in Scotland, among many, many organizations.

The gift that keeps on giving
The Class of 2008’s parting gift to Amherst is a donation to the college’s Annual Fund. As of Wednesday, May 21, 82 percent of the class had contributed to the gift, and organizers had collected $13,490. ($10,000 of that total is from an anonymous alumnus who would give the money once 80 percent of seniors had contributed.)

Incredible edibles
During the entire commencement weekend, Charlie Thompson, Amherst’s director of dining services, estimates his team will serve at least 1,700 graduates and guests on Saturday and 3,900 on Sunday. Their meals and recipes call for 110 pounds of smoked turkey, 154 pounds of fresh asparagus, 900 pounds of fruit cup mix, 4,480 assorted brownies and bars and 250 dozen cookies, among other foods.

Have a seat
In order to prepare for inclement weather, Amherst’s building and grounds crew assembles both outside and inside commencement venues; they set up 5,150 chairs on the main quad as well as 1,760 in LeFrak Gymnasium and 1,500 in Coolidge Cage. That’s in addition to the 3,000 chairs and 464 tables they arrange in front of the college’s Valentine Dining Hall for meals.

One last gift
Upon taking their seats at the start of the commencement ceremonies, the members of the Class of 2008 will find another present under their chairs, courtesy of their alma mater: Keepsake metal bottles full of chilled water. The college has provided thirsty graduates with disposable bottles of water at several ceremonies past, but President Anthony W. Marx decided to offer students this year a more environmentally friendly—and reusable—alternative.

Raising canes
During the commencement ceremonies, each graduate receives a diploma and a cane, the latter item part of an Amherst tradition dating back to the 1800s that was revived and reshaped by the Class of 2003. The Senior Class Cane is meant to serve as a visual metaphor for their college education, according to Amherst lore: It supports graduates throughout their lives after leaving the college’s hallowed halls. The canes the seniors will receive May 25 feature a small plaque with their class year that was copied from an 1800s-era glee club program from Amherst’s archives.

That personal touch
Every diploma from the college is personally signed by the president and stamped with the Amherst seal by the college’s registrar. Staffers in the registrar’s office then spend an estimated 25 hours rolling and affixing ribbons by hand to every diploma.




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