Students in commencement gowns holding canes and purple diploma tubes

If you live in Western Massachusetts, you know that spring this year has been rainy. Really, really rainy.

To wit: The Town of Amherst saw a record 7.38 inches of precipitation during April. It rained 21 out of the month’s 30 days.

Heading into 2019 Commencement Weekend, one might reasonably think all this precipitation would result in a soggy, droopy-looking campus.

On the contrary. The College’s grounds are “more beautiful than ever,” says Kenny Lauzier, Amherst’s supervisor of landscape and grounds. “The rain forced us to be very dialed-in and strategic about our work, and campus really benefitted from it.”

Lauzier, along with 30 full-time staffers in landscape and grounds, 14 student workers and others have been toiling for days to make Amherst look as stunning as possible for this year’s Commencement festivities. That’s in addition to many members of the dining services, student affairs and conferences and special events teams, as well as those from the president’s office and the faculty, among many others, who are also doing their part to make the weekend special for class of 2019, their families and friends.

A white tent and rows upon rows of white chairs set up outside Lauzier’s numbers tell the story. He and his landscape and grounds crew have mowed, raked, planted and/or seeded about 100 College acres. They’ve pruned several hundred trees. They’ve spread 340 yards of mulch, carted away five 30-yard containers of trash collected on campus and donated 60 yards of clothing to the local survival center.

Lauzier said that he “couldn’t begin to calculate” the hours of labor his crew put into such work, but noted that their efforts are visible in the carefully maintained gardens, flowers and trees dotting the grounds.

The spot on campus Lauzier thinks is most beautiful these days? The most important one: The Quad. That’s the site of the Commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

“We were really perfect in our maintenance of it this year,” he said. “It has some really nice grass.”

Here are other facts about Commencement preparations, the ceremony itself and the day’s VIPs.

The Class of 2019

  • Number of graduates: 484, with 471 slated to walk in the ceremony (both numbers may change slightly by May 26).
  • Number of pens employed by Martin over the course of a week to sign diplomas: Between 5 and 10. The president uses Pigma Graphic 1.0 archival document pens purchased specifically for the job, which occupied between 2.5 and 3 hours over several days.
  • Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 34 countries (including Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, Lebanon, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey) and 39 U.S. states and territories. The flags of those nations will line two ramps leading up to the stage where the graduates will receive their degrees, and an additional 64 flags honoring members of the graduates’ families will fly at the back of the stage. 
  • Members of the class of 2019 elected into the College’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest undergraduate academic honors organization in the United States: 49.
  • Top five most-declared majors: Economics, English, mathematics, political science and psychology.
  • Percent of the graduates with two majors: 45.
  • Senior theses completed by members of the class of 2019: 180.
  • Department with the largest number of students graduating with honors: English, with 16.
  • National award winners: Six as of May 15, including four Fulbrights (one to conduct independent research and three to teach English abroad), one Churchill Scholar and one Watson Fellow.
  • Total number of college classes taken by members of the class over four years, including those taken at UMass and Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges: 15,184. (14,615 of them were Amherst classes.) 
  • Cumulative amount of time spent in Amherst classrooms (more or less): 63 years, six months, three weeks, six days, one hour and six minutes.
  • Amount donated to the Amherst Fund by the seniors as a parting gift to the College: $2,427 as of May 16. Fifty-seven percent of the senior class has contributed to the gift, and, among those who donated, 37 percent chose to support financial aid.
  • Appearances by Amherst teams or individuals in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) contests: 30.
  • NCAA championships won during the past four years: Three. The winning teams included women’s basketball in 2017 and 2018 and men’s soccer in 2015.
  • New England Small College Athletic Conference championships won by members of the class of 2019: 10.
  • Cumulative win-loss-tie record for the graduating student athletes over their academic careers: 1,059-452-146. If you’re doing the math, that’s a 69.5 winning percentage.   

Commencement Activities

Graduates from Amherst College during Commencement

  • Date of the College’s first Commencement. Aug. 28, 1822. The festivities featured only two graduates—Ebenezer Strong Snell and Pindar Field—and 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.
  • 2019 Commencement speakers: Two. The ceremony will include addresses by College President Biddy Martin and senior Helena Burgueño, from Hamden, Conn., who was voted the student speaker by her classmates.
  • Honorary degrees to be awarded: Seven. This year’s honorary degree recipients include
    • Harvard neuroscientist David P. Corey ’74
    • Photographer Annie Leibovitz
    • Cape Town, South Africa Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
    • Book author, science writer and scriptwriter Charles C. Mann ’76
    • Massachusets Institue of Technology astrophysicist Nervis Mavalvala
    • Journalist, book author and former Amherst Board of Trustees chair Cullen Murphy ’74
    • Ford Foundation President Darren Walker
  • Canes distributed this Commencement season: 503. The canes are a 19th-century College tradition revived and reshaped by the class of 2003 to celebrate class unity and spirit. Made possible by a gift from Brian J. Conway ’80 and Kevin J. Conway ’80 to endow the Fund for College Canes, what are now known as the Conway Canes are presented to all Amherst seniors to mark their graduation and to serve as an enduring symbol of their connection to their class, to a unique tradition and to the graduates’ alma mater. But the 484 members of the class of 2019 aren’t the only ones who leave the College with Conway canes. The aforementioned seven honorary degree recipients; Paula Rauch ’77 P’00 ’08, the winner of the College’s Medal for Eminent Service; Andrew Kendall ’83, P’19 ’22, the honorary marshal; three Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Award recipients; and seven honorary members of the class will receive them as well.

  • Purple clothespins used for a special surprise installation on campus honoring the
    graduates: 1,100.

  • Seats for graduation spectators: 5,000 on the Main Quad. That’s in addition to 3,500 chairs in the
    Commencement rain location--LeFrak Gymnasium—and 1,500 chairs that Amherst’s buildings
    and grounds crew arrange in front of Valentine Dining Hall for meals.

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