Commencement 2019 speakers announced

Speakers at the 2019 Commencement are Barbara Smith ’69, Gary Younge and Adrienne Arsht ’63.

By Christian Feuerstein

A renowned philanthropist and business leader, a trailblazing activist who has focused her attention on the intersections of race, class, sexuality and gender, and an award-winning journalist will address the class of 2019 at Mount Holyoke College’s 182nd Commencement on May 19, 2019.

Adrienne Arsht ’63, Barbara Smith ’69 and Gary Younge will speak to the graduating class. Mount Holyoke College will also confer honorary doctorates of humane letters on all three speakers.

Mount Holyoke President Sonya Stephens, who will preside over the ceremony and confer the honorary degrees, will present over 600 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates to the audience of family, friends, faculty and staff. The ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the  Field House in the College’s Kendall Sports & Dance Complex.

As a philanthropist and business leader, Adrienne Arsht ’63 promotes artistic, business and civic growth in the three cities she calls home: Washington, D.C., Miami and New York. Arsht was the first woman to receive the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in 2017, in recognition of her philanthropy to cultural and nonprofit institutions throughout the United States, as well as leadership in the financial, public and legal sectors.

In Miami, she is the founding chairman of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation and she  supports the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. She supports the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, including the Adrienne Arsht Stage. Her work in Washington, D.C., includes serving as trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and endowing the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience and the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Barbara Smith ’69, author, activist and scholar, has played a groundbreaking role since the 1960s in opening up a national, cultural and political dialogue about the intersections of race, class, sexuality and gender. She was among the first to define an African American women’s literary tradition and to build Black women’s studies and Black feminism in the United States. Her accomplishments include being the driving force behind the development of the Combahee River Collective, a group identified as a class-conscious, sexuality-affirming Black feminist organization.

Smith’s breakthrough 1977 article, “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” is frequently cited as opening the field of Black women’s literature and the Black lesbian voice. She has edited or co-edited three major collections about Black women, and authored or co-authored three more. Smith co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color to reach a wide national audience, and served as the publisher until 1995.  

Smith has been featured on PBS and in Essence magazine. Her numerous awards include the African American Policy Forum Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lambda Literary Award, a Gustavus Myers Human Rights Book Award, an Alumnae Association of Mount Holyoke College Achievement Award, and the Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Association Sesquicentennial Award. Smith was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Journalist, author and broadcaster Gary Younge has covered a remarkable range of stories ever since he first started working at The Guardian in 1993. Major highlights of his coverage include the 1994 elections in South Africa, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 Wall Street crash, the election of Barack Obama and Brexit. He writes a monthly column for The Nation and has made numerous radio and television documentaries.

In his work, Younge frequently explores race, including in five highly-acclaimed books. His numerous journalism awards include: Feature Writer of the Year from the Society of Editors Press Awards; Feature of the Year from Amnesty Media Awards; the Anthony J. Lukas Book Prize from Columbia University; Foreign Commentator of the Year from The Comment Awards; the David Nyhan Prize for political journalism from Harvard University Shorenstein Center; the Sandford Award; and the James Cameron Award.