May 18, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. — On Sunday, May 20, Amherst College will celebrate its 191st Commencement at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The day’s exercises will feature addresses from College President Biddy Martin and senior Elias Johansson-Miller, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 441 graduates and honorary doctorates to seven distinguished guests.
Here are some behind-the-scenes facts about this year’s event and the graduates who will be receiving degrees:
- Graduating seniors: 441
- Honorary degree recipients: 7. Honorary doctorate recipients include CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, former UMass professor and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Sheila Bair, playwright and gay-rights activist Martin Duberman, Iran hostage crisis negotiator Ulric Haynes Jr. ’52, chemist David K. Lewis ’64, New York Public Library President and former Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx and acclaimed narrative nonfiction writer John McPhee. (Hit songwriter Jim Steinman ’69 was also slated to receive an honorary degree but had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances.)
- Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 31 countries (including Canada, Brazil, Ghana, France, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Nepal, Qatar and Vietnam, among others) and 35 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
- Top five most-declared majors: Economics, English, history, psychology and political science, the same most-declared majors as 2011.
- Students elected into the college’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the U.S.: 44.
- Senior theses completed by members of the Class of 2011: 217.
- Longest thesis title: Esther Mia Neustadt’s “The Delayed Effects of a Single Dose of PCP on Open Field, Elevated Plus Maze, and Light/Dark Exploration Behavior in Young Adult Rats: An Investigation of Anxiety Across Multiple Behavioral Assays” (neuroscience).
- Shortest thesis title: Kathleen Charlia Paeth’s “Shed Skin” (art and the history of art).
- National award winners: As of May 16, at least 10 seniors had been awarded prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Eight received J. William Fulbright Fellowships for study and teaching abroad (as did two alumni) and two were named Thomas J. Watson Fellows.
- Varsity athletes: 122.
- National team championships won by members of the Class of 2012 during their four years on campus: Four and counting (winners include the 2008-09 and 2009-10 women’s ice hockey, 2010-11 women’s basketball and 2010-11 men’s tennis teams).
- National individual athletics titles won: 3 and counting (swimmer Ryan Lichtenfel won two, while runner Ben Scheetz nabbed one).
- National Players of the Year: Three (Ben Scheetz for track, Caroline Stedman for women’s basketball and Jonathan La Rose for men’s hockey).
- Diplomas personally signed by Amherst President Biddy Martin: All of them.
- Jobs accepted by the new graduates: A research associate for Amazon.com, a physics teacher for the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., an investment analyst for HIMCO, a research technician for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a language and cultural assistant for the Spanish Ministry of Education, a deputy digital director for Obama for Iowa, a junior developer for ThoughtWorks, Inc. and a second lieutenant for the United States Marine Corps, among many other positions at various businesses, nonprofits, charitable organizations and graduate school programs.
- Percent of the Class of 2012 that has contributed to the senior class gift, a donation to the annual fund: 80; the contribution itself now totals $4,736 for the Alumni Fund. If an additional 43 seniors contribute, the participation goal of 90 percent will be reached, which will trigger a challenge gift of $10,000 from a ’71 alumnus.
- Meals served on campus during Commencement weekend: An estimated 5,500. This year’s commencement spread include 3,600 chicken breasts, 500 pounds of asparagus and couscous Salad, 3,600 brownies, 2,700 sugar cookies, 800 roast turkey sandwiches, 275 pounds of roasted potato salad and 6,500 assorted pastries, among other goodies.
- 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: 453. After being given his or her diploma, each of this year’s 441 graduate receives a cane. These canes are a 19th-century Amherst tradition that was revived and reshaped by the Class of 2003 to celebrate class unity and spirit and they are now known as the Conway Canes, in honor of a gift from Brian J. Conway, Class of 1980, and Kevin J. Conway, Class of 1980, to endow the Fund for College Canes. The Conway Canes are presented to all Amherst seniors to mark their graduation from Amherst and to serve as an enduring symbol of their connection to their class, to a unique tradition at Amherst and to their alma mater. But the seniors aren’t the only ones walking away with canes: this year’s honorary degree recipients, Swift Moore teaching award winners, honorary marshal and recipient of the college’s Medal for Eminent Service receive them, too.
- Graduates, friends and family members happily spending the weekend in the Town of Amherst: Approximately 5,000.