Last year at about this time, one giant stage and 5,000 chairs had been assembled on the quad. Many of Amherst’s 1,000 acres had been mowed, several hundred trees pruned and 340 yards of mulch spread. Linens were being folded and placed neatly on beds in sparkling-clean residence hall rooms in anticipation of thousands of visitors. And the Campus Print and Mail Center was cranking out thousands of programs, schedules and maps. In other words, the College was in full-on Commencement mode.
This year, the grounds are just as beautifully manicured and the residence halls clean (and fully sanitized). But there are no rows of chairs, nor a stage on the quad. Due to the ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amherst’s 199th Commencement—which had been scheduled for May 24, 2020—is postponed until the spring of 2021.
The College isn’t letting this year’s seniors go unnoticed, however. Amherst is hosting an online Celebration of the Class of 2020 this Sunday, May 31, to honor the students from afar. The virtual event, which begins at 11 a.m. EDT at amherst.edu/go/2020, will feature a choral performance; an address by a senior who was elected by classmates to speak; live remarks delivered by President Biddy Martin from her home; and an appearance by a surprise special guest. (A poker-faced Conferences and Special Events [CASE] Director Austin Huot, whose office coordinates and manages Commencement in collaboration with many campus partners, declined to entertain guesses as to whom the “special guest” might be.) In addition, graduates around the world will be invited during the event to open boxes of gifts that were specially shipped to each of them.
When pressed for information about the aforementioned packages—the contents of which are being kept secret—Christina LaDue, associate director of CASE, shared a few “fun facts”: It took 520 pounds of crinkle paper in aggregate to cushion the gifts in the custom purple boxes. The College’s mascot is printed on four of the items in each box, bringing the total number of Mammoth appearances in the packages to 1,800. And the closest shipment will be hand-delivered to a recipient on campus; the farthest, more than 8,000 miles away in Vietnam.
Huot emphasized that the goodies and virtual celebration are not meant to replace the pomp and circumstance or traditions of an in-person Commencement. “This is Amherst’s way of recognizing the individual and collective achievements of our graduates and providing an opportunity for our seniors and their families to celebrate an important milestone,” he explained. “The seniors are missed greatly right now by the College community, particularly since it is a time of year when we would traditionally gather to celebrate them. This is our way of congratulating the resilient class of 2020, sharing appreciation for the role they have had in shaping Amherst and welcoming them as alumni.”
What follows are some fun facts about the Class of 2020:
- Number of graduates: 452.
- Nations and states represented by this year’s seniors: 25 countries (including Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Latvia, Nepal, New Zealand and Morocco, among others) and 41 U.S. states and territories.
- Top six most-declared majors: Economics, math and statistics, psychology, computer science, English and political science.
- Percent of the graduates with more than one major: 41.
- Senior theses completed: 199.
- Departments with the largest numbers of students graduating with honors: English, psychology, economics, history and political science.
- National award winners: 12 as of May 26, including 11 Fulbrights (two to conduct independent research and nine to teach English abroad), and one Saint Andrew’s Scholar.
- Total number of college courses taken by members of the class over four years, including those taken at UMass and Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges: 13,715.
- Appearances by Amherst teams or individuals in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) contests or squash postseason competition: 42.
- Individual player appearances in the NCAA contests: 36.
- NCAA championships won during the past four years: 2. The winning teams included women’s basketball in 2017 and 2018.
- New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) team titles won by members of the class of 2020: 9.
- Individual player NESCAC titles: 11.
- Longest overall winning streak: 68 victories by the women’s basketball team between November 2016 and November 2018. The streak included two perfect seasons.
- Cumulative win-loss-tie record for the graduating student-athletes over their academic careers: 1,011-442-47.