Three student marshals leading the class of 2023.

Class marshals Victoria Foley ’23, Carley Daly ’23 and Haoran Tong ’23 lead the way to the Commencement ceremony.

Quoting Ukrainian human rights lawyer and 2023 Amherst honorary degree recipient Oleksandra Matviichuk’s 2022 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, President Michael A. Elliott today called on graduates, faculty and guests assembled for the College’s 202nd Commencement “to create ‘a new humanist movement that would work with society at the level of meaning, educate people, build grass-root support and engage people in the protection of rights and freedoms.’”

 Families taking photos of the Commencement ceremony.

Please click on any of the smaller photos to see larger versions.

“That is a lofty goal and an ambitious project,” said Elliott to the students, with Matviichuk, head of Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, sitting behind him on the stage. “I can think of no one better, no one more prepared, to advance such a movement than the class of 2023—wherever you may go, whatever you may do. At Amherst, we believe that no place and no person is too small to have a larger meaning to the world.”

The event also featured music by the Glee Club, a speech delivered by senior Quentin Jeyaretnam and the awarding of bachelor of arts degrees to 484 students. It capped a sunny weekend of events, including talks by seven honored guests, a baccalaureate service, a garden party at the president’s house and other celebrations.

The Commencement website will be updated during the week of May 29 with photos and videos from the festivities.

‘Advancing a free and just society lies with us all’

President Michael Elliott delivers a speech during Commencement.

Elliott began his remarks by referencing a photo from fall 2020 of the College’s Symphony Orchestra performing under a tent, the musicians spaced 6 feet apart. He wondered what the graduates would remember, forget and discard about their experience during the pandemic. “As we celebrate your success—and appreciate all of the obstacles that you overcame—it is important that neither you nor Amherst College forget all that you have done in your time here. You deserve the honor of that memory.”

Elliott suggested that the core of the class of 2023’s Amherst experience—learning both separately and together—brought to mind the ideals of one of his predecessors, Alexander Meiklejohn, who served as president of Amherst from 1912 to 1923. Meiklejohn was a renowned advocate of free speech and ardent defender of the First Amendment and academic freedom.

Meiklejohn, explained Elliott, believed that “it is in the freedom of our faculty and our students to pursue truth—and to disagree with one another freely and openly about how to pursue truth—that we serve society. What makes academic freedom—the freedom of colleges to determine what they teach, how they teach and who they teach—so important is that it is through its exercise that we serve a larger, public purpose.”

Mark Swanson leading the orchestra through practice in an outdoor tent.

Photo by Hantong Wu ’23 referenced in President Elliott's remarks.

It is particularly important to reaffirm Meiklejohn’s–and Amherst’s–commitment to academic freedom at this point in history, said Elliott, given that the principle is under attack, and “powerfully so,” by many state legislatures and even the federal judiciary. “A campus that is less open in its inquiry, that constrains the range of its debate, or that is prohibited by the government from selecting the students it deems best suited to advance its mission is also a campus that will be less capable of taking on the hard questions that you have asked of Amherst College.”

Commending all of the year’s seven honorary degree recipients (see below) for using their intellectual freedom to “fearlessly and uncompromisingly investigate our past and look to the future,” he highlighted Matviichuk’s long defense of human rights in Ukraine, including the “urgent and difficult work” of documenting war crimes and instances of political persecution in her native country since Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 and invasion of other Ukrainian territories during the past 16 months.

Matviichuk’s career serves as a reminder that “so much of what we take for granted every day–a civil society, the rule of law, human freedom–must be remade and fought for by every generation,” said Elliott. As Matviichuk argued in her Nobel Prize speech, he continued, “the responsibility for advancing a free and just society lies not only with politicians, but with us all. Ordinary people, she said, have much more influence than they realize.”

“You, who are sitting here today, will be among those, I hope, who will help us come closer to discerning, finally, what a democracy is—and what it should be,” concluded Elliott. “As we go our own way, let us keep honest toward one another, class of 2023, by committing to both remembering the past with fidelity and working together with intelligence, with deliberation and with empathy to create a shared future that better serves us all.”

Two graduates celebrate receiving their diplomas.

‘Wherever you go from here on out, you are home’

Quentin Jeyaretnam

Prior to Elliott’s speech, Jeyaretnam, a military veteran from Singapore who began his Amherst career at age 22, started his address discussing how he initially felt like an outsider on campus. He dove into joining clubs and nourishing friendships, but just as he was starting to see success, the pandemic struck and he had to return to his home.

To his surprise, however, Jeyaretnam found “that the Amherst community continued to embrace me, even from thousands of miles away.” Via classes and office hours over Zoom, “I felt proud to be an Amherst student, to be part of a community that cared so deeply for one another.”

Two graduate smiling at the end of the ceremony.

Jeyaretnam, an economics major, spoke of what he learned at the College, beyond Green’s Theorem in Multivariable Calculus and comparative economic advantage. For example, and thanks to Stanley Rabinowitz, Henry Steele Commager Professor of Russian, Emeritus, joked Jeyaretnam, he learned that “majoring in STEM was an absolutely terrible choice and that I should’ve focused on the humanities when I had the chance.”

While each person’s experience was unique, Jeyaretnam noted, he and his fellow graduates did learn some of the same things. “We’ve learned to identify our strengths and build ourselves up,” he said. “We’ve learned to embrace being weird and a little bit crazy, to embrace being an outsider. We’ve learned a little bit more about who we are, and about what we can do for the world.”

“Bring what you have learned of who you are to tackle the crises that beset our generation and be a beacon of good in the world,” he encouraged his fellow graduates. “And, whenever you feel a little lost, remember Amherst, remember how you rose to the challenge and came out all the stronger, remember that every outsider can find a place to call their own. Above all, remember that through your experiences here, by learning who you are and finding yourself, wherever you go from here on out, you are home.”

Honorary Degree Recipients

The honorary degree recipients at Amherst College Commencement 2023.

Left to right: Elizabeth Kolbert, Tracy K. Smith, Oleksandra Matviichuk, Paul Polman,  Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Stephen Hoge ’98, and P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86

Cap toss at the end of Commencement 2023.

Other Honorees

Adrienne E. White-Faines ’82 was named this year’s winner of the Medal for Eminent Service for exceptional and distinguished service to the College.

Educators Michael Maunu, a computer science teacher at the Francis Parker School in San Diego, Calif.; Felicia Mouton, an English teacher at Grace King High School in Metairie, La.; and Abeer Jadallah, social studies teacher and chair of the social studies department at the Doctors Charter School in Miami Shores, Fla., were honored with Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Awards. The prize, created in 1997 and named after the first president of Amherst and his wife, recognizes teachers who challenged, inspired and moved members of the graduating class. This year's winners were nominated by their former students Sam Hodges, Diego Carias and Julissa Tello, respectively, all of whom are members of the class of 2023.

A line of graduates pose with their Conway Canes.

Gwendolynn Allen, from Belle Mead, N.J., and Tavus Atajanova, from Brooklyn, N.Y., were both recognized with the Obed Finch Slingerland Memorial Prize. The annual award, which was created from the income of a fund established by an anonymous donor, is awarded by the trustees of the College to a member or members of the senior class, who, during their first three years at Amherst, showed by determination and accomplishment the greatest appreciation of and desire for a college education. 

The Woods-Travis Prize, an annual gift to a member of the graduating class in memory of Josiah B. Woods of Enfield and Charles B. Travis of the class of 1864, was awarded to Sara Kao, of Houston, Tex., for “outstanding excellence in culture and faithfulness to duty as a scholar.” 

A family celebrates their graduate with shirts that spell out Go Sam!