Commencement Canes

May 22, 2014

AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst College will celebrate its 193rd Commencement on Sunday, May 25, at 10 a.m. on the school’s Main Quadrangle. The day’s exercises will feature addresses from College President Biddy Martin and senior Katherine E. Sisk, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 475 graduates 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

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

  • Graduating seniors: 474.
  • Honorary degree recipients: Seven. Political and cultural commentator David Brooks, Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Cullen Jones, tech entrepreneur Thai-Hi Lee ’80, statistician and writer Nate Silver, contemporary artist Sarah Sze, the late American studies scholar and transportation expert Yasuo Sakakibara and former Amherst College Board of Trustees chair and businessman Jide Zeitlin ’85 will all be awarded honorary doctorates.
  • Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 23 countries (including Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom) and 35 U.S. states and territories.  
  • Top five most-declared majors: Economics, English, psychology, political science and mathematics.
  • Members of the Class of 2014 elected into the college’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the U.S.: 48.
  • Total number of college courses taken by the graduates during their undergraduate careers: 14,780. Of those, 14,086 classes were taken at Amherst, 54 at Hampshire College, 95 at Mount Holyoke College, 113 at Smith College and 432 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  • Amount of time the seniors spent in Amherst classes, combined: 71 years, 5 months, 2 days, 17 hours and 52 minutes.
  • Senior theses completed by members of the Class of 2014: 195.
  • National award winners: As of May 21, at least 17 seniors had been awarded prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Two of these won Thomas J. Watson Fellowships for study and exploration abroad, 10 received J. William Fulbright Fellowships for teaching internationally, two were offered Fulbright Research Grants for study, one was given a French Government Teaching Assistantship, one received a fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, and one was named a Churchill Scholar.
  • Championships won by members of the Class of 2014 during their four years on campus: 16 New England Small College Athletics Conference championships and three National Collegiate Athletics Association championships.
  • National individual (i.e., non-squad) athletics titles won: Four. Naomi Bates won the national championship for the indoor long jump this year, while doubles pair Jordan Brewer and Gabby Devlin together earned the top spot nationally in tennis in 2011 and 2013. Devlin also won a doubles championship as part of another team in 2012 (Brewer was injured at the time).
  • Seniors whose mothers or fathers are Amherst alumni: 53, and for four of them, both parents are alumni.
  • Graduates whose siblings have attended or are currently enrolled at the college: 42. Two members of the Class of 2014 have pairs of siblings that have attended or are attending Amherst as well.
  • 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 a ribbon to every diploma by hand: 25.
  • Job titles for the new graduates: Associate consultant for Bain & Co., research assistant at Duke University Hospital, associate account strategist at Google Inc., associate web developer at LinkedIn, teacher in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, management trainee for the Norfolk Southern Railway, legislative assistant for the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, corporate paralegal at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLC and Solar Development Program Analyst at SunEdison and special education teacher for Teach for America, among many other positions at various businesses, nonprofits, charitable organizations and graduate school programs.
  • Amount raised for the seniors’ parting gift to the college, a donation to the Annual Fund: $6,051. (Incredibly, nearly 80 percent of the class has contributed to the gift so far. If 90 percent of the group participates, an additional $10,000 will be added to the Annual Fund by an anonymous alumnus.)
  • Meals served on campus during Commencement weekend: An estimated 6,000. The spread includes 2,000 assorted sandwiches, 4,000 desserts, 3,400 cage-free chicken breasts, 2,500 pounds of salads, 700 pounds of fruit, 550 pounds of local asparagus and 100 gallons of coffee.
  • 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 buildings and grounds crew arranges in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.
  • Conway Canes awarded during the weekend: 492. 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 25 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 seven honorary degree recipients, the winner of the college’s Medal for Eminent Service, one honorary marshal of the ceremonies, three Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Award winners and five honorary members of the Class of 2014, among others, also receive them.
  • Graduates, friends and family members spending the weekend in the Town of Amherst: Approximately 5,000.

Commencement   Go to Commencement website.