Senior Assembly

Held in Johnson Chapel on an evening after classes have ended, Senior Assembly is a traditional ceremony in which the faculty honors the graduating students. After a procession, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein opens the ceremony, and President Michael A. Elliott awards prizes and honorary class memberships. Each year, two students and a faculty member address the graduating class, and the ceremony ends with a recessional. Senior Assembly 2023 featured addresses by Ernest “E.J.” Terrell Collins Jr. ’23; Maya Roberts ’23; and Edward Melillo, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History and Environmental Studies.

Honorary Degree Talks

Many schools award honorary degrees; few place as much prominence as Amherst does on celebrating the voices and contributions of these esteemed guests. Nominations for honorary degrees are received throughout the year from the Amherst community. Every year, on the day before Commencement, the chosen honorees fan out across campus to speak to graduating seniors and their families. Conversations are scheduled throughout the day on Saturday, May 27, with this year’s honorary doctoral candidates.

National Flags

The Commencement stage will prominently feature flags representing the home countries of the class of 2023. This Amherst tradition also includes the display of additional flags, from nearly every country, on the ramps leading to the stage, to highlight the broad heritage of the campus community.

The Maces

Three graduating seniors lead their classmates in the Commencement procession. Each of the three carries a ceremonial mace. The faculty marshal also carries a mace in the academic procession. That one includes an engraving listing every previous faculty marshal, beginning with William K. Green, who served from 1924 to 1956. The honorary marshal—usually an alum—carries a mace as well. That mace is engraved with the names of the 69 honorary marshals who served from 1918 to 1986.

Awards for High School Teachers

As part of the Commencement ceremony, Amherst honors three outstanding secondary school teachers who challenged, inspired and moved members of the graduating class. The recipients of these awards are chosen by a committee of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by graduating seniors, and are invited to Amherst as guests of the College. The awards are named for Zephaniah Swift Moore, the first president of the College, and his wife, Phebe.

The Conway Canes

Each graduate receives a chestnut cane as they cross the Commencement stage, a tradition that dates to 2003, when a group of students revived a 19th-century Amherst practice that celebrated 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 serve as an enduring symbol of the graduates’ connection to their class and their alma mater. According to Amherst lore, they are also a metaphor for a college education, as they support graduates throughout their lives.


Want to know more about Commencement 2023? Here is general information for the weekend, including the schedule and much more.

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