May 18, 2011

AMHERST, Mass. — On Sunday, May 22, Amherst College will celebrate its 190th Commencement, at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The day’s exercises will feature addresses from college president Anthony W. Marx and senior Gregory Campeau, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 482 graduates, honorary bachelor of arts degrees to four military veterans whose Amherst educations were cut short by service in World War II and honorary doctorates to seven distinguished guests.

The cover of the program for
Amherst’s first Commencement, which
took place in 1822

The ceremony will stand in sharp contrast to the first Commencement on August 28, 1822; though it featured only two graduates—Ebenezer Strong Snell and Pindar Field—the festivities lasted all day, with a midday break for a dinner in between. The exercises included 10 speakers; more than a dozen presentations with orations in Latin, Greek and English; and topics ranging from “The Diversity of Human Character” to “The Gospel Carried to India” to a “Comparative View of the Intellectual Power of the Sexes.” One of the speakers on this last topic was the poet Emily Dickinson’s father, Edward, who himself graduated from Amherst in 1823 before going on to graduate from Yale.  There were also dialogues, prayers, a poem and a colloquy.

Commencement today may seem a modest affair in comparison to that early graduation.  However, many of the original traditions remain, in whole or in part, and Commencement is, as always, a special event.  (To learn more about Commencements past and view some historical images, check out the Commencement Traditions pages created by Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections team.)

Here are some behind-the-scenes facts about this year’s event and the graduates who will be receiving degrees:

  • Graduating seniors: 482.

  • Honorary degree recipients: 11. Honorary doctorate recipients include John Abele ’59, founder of the Boston Scientific Corporation; Adam Falk, president of Williams College; Andrew Kendall ’83, president of the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations; Gail Kern Paster, outgoing director of the Folger Shakespeare Library; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank; Alice Waters, chef and restaurateur; and Kimmie Weeks ’05, founder and director of Youth Action International. Honorary bachelor of arts degree recipients include Richard Hunter ’44, J. Bruce Duncan ’45, Frank R.L. Egloff ’46 and C. Burns Roehrig ’45, who left school to serve their country in World War II.
    Graduates seated on the Class Fence, 1916

  • Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 26 countries (including Bulgaria, China, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Nicaragua, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Venezuela and Zimbabwe) and 42 states.

  • 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.: 49.

  • Senior theses completed by members of the Class of 2011: 222. 

  • Longest thesis titles: Alison Ilana Thaler’s “An Investigation of Alterations in Anxiety Behavior as Related to Schizophrenia: The Delayed Effects of a Single Dose of PCP on Elevated Plus Maze and Light/Dark Emergence Behavior in Rats” (neuroscience) and Amanda Dane Barrow’s “Women, Peace and Security: An Examination of the Theoretical Underpinnings of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 as Applied to the Post-Conflict States of Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina” (political science).

  • Shortest thesis title: Sarah Melida Perez’s “Rupture” (theater and dance).

  • National award winners: As of May 18, at least 10 seniors had been awarded prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Seven received J. William Fulbright Fellowships for study and teaching abroad (as did two alumni), one was given a French Government Teaching Assistantship, one received both a Luce Scholarship and a Watson Fellowship but accepted the Luce and one received a Keasbey Scholarship for study in the UK.

  • Varsity athletes graduating: 123.

  • National team championships won by members of the Class of 2011 during their four years on campus: Four and counting (winners include the 2007 women’s cross country, 2009 and 2010 women’s ice hockey and 2011 women’s basketball teams).

  • National individual athletics titles won: 16 and counting (swimmers Kendra Stern and Alex Fraser have nabbed 13 and three, respectively).

  • Olympic trial qualifiers: One (Stern).

  • National Players of the Year: Two (basketball player Jaci Daigneault in 2011 and Stern in 2011).

  • Graduates whose siblings have attended or are currently enrolled at the college: 23.

  • Family members in the largest Amherst family trees: Charles G. Cross and Gregory E. Wejchert each have 10 relatives who are alumni of the college.

  • Consecutive generations of Amherst graduates represented in the tallest family trees: Four (the first relatives of Charles G. Cross, Oliver B. Davis, Gregory E. Wejchert and David B. Wray III graduated in the 1910s or 1920s).

  • Caps and gowns made of 100 percent certified recycled post-consumer plastic: All of them. About 28 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.

  • Jobs accepted by the new graduates: Geoscience public policy intern for the American Geological Institute; scenic paint intern for American Repertory Theatre; associate consultant for management company Bain & Company; residential treatment counselor for Catholic Charities; paralegal for Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, LLP; account executive for Google; head sailing instructor for Kollegewidgwok Sailing Education Association; intern for Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; and language and culture assistant for the Spanish Ministry of Education, among many other positions at various businesses, nonprofits, charitable organizations and graduate school programs.

  • Amount raised for the Class of 2011’s parting gift to the college, a donation to the Annual Fund: $4,454.60, as of May 18. An incredible 81.9 percent of the class has contributed to the gift so far, but if 92 percent of the group participates, an additional $10,000 will be added to the Annual Fund by an anonymous alum.

  • Meals served on campus during Commencement weekend: An estimated 6,000. The spread for all of the activities includes 6,000 canned beverages, 831 pounds of grilled chicken, 500 pounds of tortellini, 350 pounds of locally grown asparagus, 475 dozen chocolate chip cookies, 50 gallons of coffee and 24 gallons of salad dressing.

  • Seats for graduation spectators: 5,000 on the Main quad. That’s 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 arranges in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.

  • Commemorative canes awarded during the weekend: 506. After being given his or her diploma, each of this year’s 482 graduate receives a cane. This is 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 will receive on May 22 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 honorary degree recipients, Swift Moore teaching award winners and honorary members of the Class of 2011, among others, receive them, too.

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