May 20, 2010

AMHERST, Mass. — On Sunday, May 23, Amherst College celebrated its 189th commencement, at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The exercises featured addresses from college president Anthony W. Marx and senior Maryam Khan, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 431 graduates and honorary degrees to eight distinguished guests.

The honorands included South African activist Zackie Achmat, founder of the AIDS/HIV advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC); Joshua M. Epstein ’76, a pioneer in agent-based computational modeling; Walter Dean Myers, author of children’s and young adult literature; Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University and Nobel laureate; advocate Harvey J. Rosenfield ’74, founder of Consumer Watchdog; Mary Jo Salter, an award-winning poet who is also a playwright, lyricist, essayist and reviewer; Dame Marjorie Scardino, CEO of the education and media company Pearson PLC; and Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia. In addition, Christine Noyer Seaver, a graduate of the Class of 1981, will receive the college’s Medal for Eminent Service.

What follows is some more information about Amherst’s extraordinary Class of 2010 and the college’s commencement weekend.

• Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 23 countries (including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Mauritius, the United Kingdom and Vietnam), 39 states and Washington, D.C.

• Top five most-declared majors: Economics, English, history, psychology and political science.

• Students elected into the college’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the U.S.: 40.

Senior honors theses completed by members of the Class of 2010: 189.  

• Longest thesis title: Daniel Wonsoon Kim’s “Investigating Sex Differences in the Effects of 14-Day Withdrawal from a Single-Phencyclidine Injection on Corticosterone Response, c-Fos Induction and N-methyl D-aspartate Receptor Subunit Expression Following Elevated Plus Maze Testing” (neuroscience)

• Shortest thesis title: Emily Grecki’s “167” (English)

• National award winners: As of May 18, at least 14 seniors had been awarded prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Nine received J. William Fulbright Fellowships for study and teaching abroad (as did two alumni), three were given French Government Teaching Assistantships, and one was honored with a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship supporting a year of independent study and travel abroad.

• Varsity athletes: 92.

• National team championships won by members of the Class of 2010: 4. Squads bringing home NCAA trophies include the 2007 men’s basketball, 2007 women’s cross country and 2009 and 2010 women’s hockey teams. Several individual athletes have won national titles as well.

• Members of the Class of 2010 who currently have younger brothers or sisters enrolled at the college: 12.

• Caps and gowns made of 100 percent certified recycled post-consumer plastic: All of them. About 25 bottles—give or take a few—are used to create one gown, according to seller Herff Jones. 

• Diplomas personally signed by Amherst President Anthony W. Marx: All of them.

• Estimated hours spent by the staff of the college’s registrar’s office rolling and affixing ribbon to every diploma by hand: 25.

• Employers of the new graduates: Management company Bain & Company, Bilkent University in Turkey, the City of New York, the French Embassy, General Electric, the Hayward California School District, the nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Target Corporation, Teach for America, Unite for Sight, the Washington Nationals baseball team and many other businesses and firms, as well as graduate schools and various nonprofits and charitable organizations.

• Amount raised for the Class of 2010’s parting gift to the college, a donation to the Annual Fund: $3,630.54. A whopping 86 percent of the class contributed to the gift by May 23, but if 90 percent of the group participates, an additional $10,000 will be added to the Annual Fund by an anonymous alum.

• Biggest entourage: About 25 friends and family members of Brandon Bullock, who traveled to Amherst from Queens, N.Y.; Atlanta, Ga.; New Rochelle, N.Y.; Goshen, N.Y.; Raleigh, N.C.; Manhattan; and other destinations to partake in the commencement ceremonies.

• Meals served on campus during commencement weekend: An estimated 5,500. The spread for all of the activities involved 220 pounds of smoked turkey, 25 gallons of pickle spears, 320 pounds of vegan tortellini, 1,270 pounds of fruit salad, 180 pounds of asparagus, 40 pounds of sundried tomatoes and 42 gallons of assorted salad dressings, among other goodies.

• Seats for graduation spectators: 5,000 on the Main quad. That was in addition to eight tents across campus; 2,500 chairs in the commencement rain location, LeFrak Gymnasium; and 1,500 chairs and 300 tables that Amherst’s building and grounds crew arranged in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.

• Commemorative canes awarded during the weekend: 465. After being given his or her diploma, each of this year’s 431 graduate received a cane, 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: The canes support graduates throughout their lives after they leave the college’s hallowed halls. The canes the seniors received on May 23 feature a small plaque with the class year, copied from an 1800s-era Glee Club program from Amherst’s archives. But they’re not the only ones walking away with canes: this year’s honored guests received them, too.

• Graduates, friends and family members who happily spent the weekend in the Town of Amherst: Approximately 5,000.