“So, commence!” said one speaker.
And so they shall. Graduating students from the classes of both 2020 and 2021 participated in a ceremony this past Saturday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock that attempted to make up for the dislocations caused by the pandemic while at the same time accommodating to its inconveniences.
This hybrid graduation ceremony limited the number of on-site participants: only graduating students and a small representation of faculty members were present under the tent. Also invited to attend were graduates from the class of 2020 whose own graduation had been cancelled last year. Parents and friends were asked to attend remotely.
Nevertheless, despite the limitations and aided by the glorious weather, a festive feeling prevailed, and the importance of the moment for graduating students was effectively driven home by a variety of interesting and effective speakers, both live and remote.
The sounds of a bagpipe signaled the start of the festivities, followed by the procession of graduating students into the tent. Students in attendance were invited to mount the podium one by one, not to receive their diplomas (those were already in hand) but to receive applause for their achievement and to have their pictures taken.
The line-up of speakers delivered messages worth remembering. Following a welcome by Provost & Vice President of the College John B. Weinstein, Chair Emerita of the Board of Overseers Emily H. Fisher encouraged students to use this historic inflection point to go out and make a difference.
Husband and wife Maudie Hampden Shah and Sumul Shah, class of ’99 and co-founders of digital healthcare guidance platform Amino, gave the Commencement Address. They reminisced that the speaker at their own graduation had urged them to “plan to be surprised,” to which they added that you need to be willing to receive unexpected gifts and that ultimately you are the one who determines how you will use those gifts.
Next three graduating Class Speakers, all speaking remotely, expressed their appreciation for their Simon’s Rock experiences. Dorissa Claire Tyndall, earning an Associate of Arts Degree this year, observed that “at this school we are expected to think deeply and actually use our minds. Hold on to these skills,” she urged her classmates, “and remember that we are the bright capable leaders of the future.” Maxell Carpenter Shulman, who received his B.A. degree last year in 2020, reminisced that “there is no academic environment like this one.” And Ajata Jagne, receiving her B.A. degree this year, remarked that Simon’s Rock teaches you how to think, not what to think. “Knowing what to think is just existing. Knowing how to think is really living. And when you know how to think, you make life happen and you can change it.”
Finally, President of the College Leon Botstein delivered the parting challenge to the graduates. “We are living in a moment of unbelievable intolerance and conformity,” he said, “and the possibility of tyranny has never been greater. We believe education is the only way to ensure a civilized, just, fair and free world. Education relies on science; it values dissent; it teaches us to be kind to strangers who are different from us. Use your education,” he urged. “Do not embrace autocracy and tyranny and do not assume they are either inevitable or favorable.”
Graduation ended with the ringing of the Burmese spinning gong, and the new graduates were sent forth to commence their lives.