May 23, 2013
AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst College will celebrate its 192nd Commencement on Sunday, May 26, at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The day’s exercises will feature addresses from College President Biddy Martin and senior Reilly A. Horan, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 464 graduates, an honorary B.A. to a military veteran whose Amherst education was cut short by service in World War II and honorary doctorates to seven distinguished guests.
The ceremony will stand in sharp contrast to the college’s first Commencement, on Aug. 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. The exercises included 10 speakers and more than a dozen presentations, with orations in Latin, Greek and English, on 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 went on to graduate from Amherst in 1823. 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 historical images, check out the Commencement Traditions pages created by Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections team at www.amherst.edu/library/archives/exhibitions/commencement.)
Here are some behind-the-scenes facts about this year’s event and the individuals who will be receiving degrees:
- Graduating seniors: 464. The male/female ratio for the class is 51/49. This bucks a trend in recent years at most liberal arts college, where that ratio is closer to 40/60.
- Honorary degree recipients: 8. Virtuosic guitarist and composer Freddie Bryant ’87, labor activist Madeline Janis ’82, veterans’ advocate Paul Rieckhoff ’98, acclaimed civil rights attorney Barry Scheck, hit songwriter Jim Steinman ’69, former Wellesley College President Diana Chapman Walsh and pioneering AIDS researcher Robert Yarchoan ’71 will all be awarded honorary doctorates, while Arthur J. Oureiff ’45, who truncated his undergraduate career and raced to complete his premedical coursework so that he could enroll in Harvard Medical School as a uniformed Navy seaman, will receive an honorary bachelor of arts degree.
- Age of the oldest graduate: 89. Ourieff will finally be given his diploma 70 years after leaving campus.
- Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 35 countries (including Bangladesh, Bolivia, the Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Japan, Kuwait, Nepal, Nigeria, Switzerland and Vietnam, among others) and 43 U.S. states and territories.
- 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.: 46.
- Total number of college courses taken by the graduates during their undergraduate careers: 14,564.
- Amount of time the seniors spent in Amherst classes, combined: 63 years, six months, five days, 21 hours and seven minutes.
- Senior theses completed by members of the Class of 2013: 189.
- Longest thesis title: Danielle Priscilla Santiago Ramos’ “Assessing the Potential Effects of Dolomitization on the Sulfur Isotopic Composition (δ34SCAS) of Late Ordovician-Early Silurian Dolostones from the Northern Basin and Range Province, Nevada” (geology).
- Shortest thesis titles: Lindsay O’Connor Stern’s “Lüz” (English) and Thanh-Nhan Thomas Vu’s “Rex” (music).
- National award winners: As of May 23, at least nine seniors had been awarded prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Six received J. William Fulbright Fellowships for study and teaching abroad (as did one alumna), one was given a French Government Teaching Assistantship, one received both the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and a Fulbright Fellowship and is accepting the Soros, and two received Thomas J. Watson Fellowships.
- NCAA team championships won by members of the Class of 2013 during their four years on campus: Four (winners include the 2009–10 women’s ice hockey, 2010–11 women’s basketball, 2010–11 men’s tennis and 2012–13 men’s basketball teams).
- National individual athletics titles won: Two (during the 2011–12 season, Luis Rattenhuber and Keri Lambert won for men’s tennis and the 3,000-meter steeplechase, respectively).
- Graduates whose siblings have attended or are currently enrolled at the college: 29.
- Senior with the largest Amherst family tree: Daniel Paltiel, with 13 relatives who are alumni of the college.
- 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 College President Biddy Martin: All of them.
- Estimated hours spent by the staff of the registrar’s office rolling and affixing ribbon to every diploma by hand: 25.
- Job titles for the new graduates: Farm apprentice at Little Cranberry Island Produce, company artist at the Louisville (Ky.) Ballet Theater, appeals bureau paralegal for the Manhattan District Attorney, NIH pre-doctoral fellow for Massachusetts General Hospital, mathematics teacher and hockey coach for Northwood School, forensic ads analyst for Facebook, professional soccer player, investment banking analyst for Credit Suisse, software developer for B-Stock Solutions, emergency department scribe for ScribeAmerica, epic movement intern for Campus Crusade for Christ and dean’s fellow for Yale-NUS College in Singapore, among many other positions at various businesses, nonprofits, charitable organizations and graduate school programs.
- Amount raised for the Class of 2013’s parting gift to the college, a donation to the Annual Fund: $8,958. As of May 23, an amazing 80 percent of the class has contributed to the gift so far, but if 90 percent of the group participates, an anonymous alumnus will add $10,000 to that total.
- Meals served on campus during Commencement weekend: An estimated 6,000. The spread for all of the activities includes 1,800 assorted sandwiches, 300 pounds of potato salad, 10,000 assorted desserts, 3,600 grilled chicken breasts, 1,500 pounds of assorted salads and 100 gallons of coffee.
- Seats for graduation spectators: 5,000 on the Main Quad. That’s in addition to eight tents across campus; 1,600 chairs in the Commencement rain location, LeFrak Gymnasium; 1,800 chairs in Coolidge Cage, a rain viewing location; and 1,500 chairs and 300 tables that Amherst’s buildings and grounds crew arranges in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.
- Conway Canes awarded during the weekend: 486. After being given his or her diploma, each graduate receives a cane. This is an Amherst tradition dating back to the 1800s that was revived and reshaped by the Class of 2003. A gift from the Fund for Conway Canes, endowed by Brian J. Conway ’80 and Kevin J. Conway ’80, the Conway Canes are, according to Amherst lore, meant to serve as a visual metaphor for a college education: They support graduates throughout their lives after they leave the college’s hallowed halls. The Conway Canes the seniors will receive on May 26 each feature a small plaque with the class year, copied from an 1800s-era Glee Club program from Amherst’s archives. But the seniors aren’t the only ones walking away with canes: this year’s eight honorary degree recipients, two winners of the college’s Medal for Eminent Service, one honorary marshal of the ceremonies, three Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Award winners and eight honorary members of the Class of 2013, among others, also receive them.
- Graduates, friends and family members spending the weekend in the Town of Amherst: Approximately 5,000.