May 22, 2015


AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst will celebrate its 194th Commencement on Sunday, May 24, 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 C. Ponds, as well as the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 470 graduates and honorary doctorates to six distinguished guests. (The event will also be webcast for friends and family members unable to make it to campus.)

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 receive degrees:

  • Graduating seniors: 470.

  • Honorary degree recipients: Six. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Jim Ansara ’82, renowned children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle, contemporary artist and educator Sonya Clark ’89, economist Alice Rivlin, computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti and attorney and activist Paul Smith ’76 will all be awarded honorary doctorates.

  • Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 27 countries (including Afghanistan, Canada, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Norway, Romania, Singapore, Turkey and Zambia) and 41 U.S. states and territories.  

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

  • Members of the Class of 2015 elected into the College’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the U.S.: 47.

  • Total number of college courses taken by the graduates during their undergraduate careers: 14,548. Of those, 13,867 courses were taken at Amherst, 75 at Hampshire College, 85 at Mount Holyoke College, 98 at Smith College and 423 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

  • Amount of time the seniors spent in Amherst classes, combined: 66 years, 8 months, 4 weeks, 16 hours, 8 minutes and 53 seconds.

  • Senior theses completed by members of the Class of 2015: 185—and three of those students completed two theses each.

  • National award winners: As of May 21, at least 13 seniors had received prestigious national fellowships or assistantships for international study or instruction. Two are Watson Fellows, one is a Carnegie Junior Fellow, another is a Truman Scholar, six are Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, and three have been offered Fulbright Research Grants. (In addition, four members of the Class of 2014 earned prestigious awards: one is a Carnegie Junior Fellow, one is an International Gates Cambridge Scholar, and two received Fulbright Research Grants.)

  • Championships won by members of the Class of 2015 during their four years on campus: 20 New England Small College Athletics Conference championships for men’s basketball (2012, 2013, 2014), women’s basketball (2012, 2013), men’s soccer (2012, 2013, 2014), football (2011, 2013, 2014) women’s soccer (2011), women’s swimming (2013), baseball (2013), men’s tennis (2012, 2014), women’s tennis (2012, 2014) and men’s ice hockey (2012, 2015).

  • National individual (i.e., non-squad) athletics titles won: One. In March, swimmer Connor Sholtis ’15 was named NCAA champion in the 200-yard freestyle.

  • Sports victories in contests against Williams College, Amherst’s longtime rival, during the seniors’ four years on campus: 85, which is nearly double the number of times Williams prevailed against Amherst. (Amherst’s overall athletics record against Williams since 2011 was an astounding 85-49-6.)

  • Seniors with at least one parent who graduated fro the College: 45. In addition, eight  members of the class of 2015 have grandfathers or great-grandfathers who are alumni.

  • Diplomas personally signed by President Biddy Martin: All of them.

  • Job titles for the new graduates: Real estate analyst for Amerimar Enterprises, Inc.; hut croo for the Appalachian Mountain Club; clinical research assistant for Beth Israel Deaconess Research Center; teacher for City Year; investment banking analyst for Credit Suisse; data scientist for Facebook; assistant buyer for Ross Stores, Inc.; utilities locator for Summit Utilities Services; editorial intern for The Nation; legal assistant/paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice; and Anthropologie Merchant Leadership Trainee for URBN Inc., among many other positions at various businesses, nonprofits  and graduate school programs.

  • Amount raised for the seniors’ parting gift to the College, a donation to the Annual Fund: $5,706. (The class is trying to break the all-time senior gift participation record of 91.9 percent, which was set by the Class of 1990. They are already almost there: As of May 22, an incredible 89 percent of seniors had contributed.)

  • Meals served on campus during Commencement weekend: More than 5,000. The spread includes 2,050 assorted sandwiches, 3,400 grilled chicken breasts, 3,480 pounds of salads, 700 and 3,800 cookies and dessert bars.

  • 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: 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 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 six 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 2015, among others, also receive them.

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