2023 Commencement speakers announced for Mount Holyoke

Author and scholar Imani Perry, author and professor Lan Cao ’83 and physicist Nancy Welker ’63 will speak to Mount Holyoke College’s newest graduates.

Mount Holyoke College has announced the three speakers and honorary degree recipients who will address the undergraduates, graduate students and certificate recipients of the class of 2023 at its one hundred eighty-sixth Commencement. The ceremony will be held in person on May 21 at 10:30 a.m. at the Field House in the College’s Kendall Sports & Dance Complex. 

Author and scholar Imani Perry, author and professor Lan Cao ’83 and physicist Nancy Welker ’63 will speak to Mount Holyoke’s newest graduates. The College will also confer honorary doctorates on all three innovators, who are reshaping the world for the better. 

Mount Holyoke Interim President Beverly Daniel Tatum will preside over the ceremony and award degrees to more than 500 bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates. 

Imani Perry is an American interdisciplinary scholar of race, law, literature and African American culture. She is the bestselling author of “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” which won the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction. In it Perry looks at the American South through a historic, personal and anecdotal lens and asserts that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Perry is also the author of “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry,” winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. The biography is a revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic — yet least understood — Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century. She has also published the books “Breathe: A Letter to My Sons,” “Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation” and “May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem.” 

Perry’s work reflects the complex history of Black thought, art and imagination. Her writing is also informed by her background as a legal historian and her understanding of the racial inequality embedded in American law. She has published numerous articles on law, cultural studies and African American studies. She is currently the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a columnist for the Atlantic. 

Lan Cao ’83 is the author of the novels “Monkey Bridge” and “The Lotus and the Storm” and the co-author of the memoir “Family in Six Tones.”  

“Monkey Bridge” is the semi-autobiographical story of Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl who was sent to America before Saigon collapsed to live with an American soldier her family befriended. Her mother also managed to escape but, in the chaos of the final hours, left Mai’s father behind. In Northern Virginia both struggle to forge new lives. “The Lotus and the Storm” is set four decades after the Vietnam War in a close-knit refugee community. The lives of Minh and Mai, father and daughter, are haunted by ghosts, secrets and the loss of their country. During the disastrous last days in Saigon, Mai never had a chance to say goodbye to so many people who meant so much to her. 

Cao is also a professor of law at the Chapman University School of Law, specializing in international business and trade, international law and development. 

Nancy Welker ’63 is a physicist and nationally recognized expert in superconducting. She had a 55-year career at the National Security Agency (NSA), during which she led groundbreaking research in superconducting materials and integrated circuit manufacturing that made it possible to develop a new generation of faster and more powerful computers. 

One of Welker’s many major accomplishments was the creation of NSA’s Microelectronics Research Laboratory (MRL) in support of NSA’s groundbreaking integrated circuit fabrication facility, the Special Processing Laboratory (SPL), which produced otherwise commercially unobtainable products for the NSA and other government agencies. She went on to manage the SPL as it produced state-of-the-art complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips in a wide range of designs and configurations. Welker was the first woman appointed as chief of the research and development (R&D) group where she had previously held several key management positions.

Recognition for her work includes the Federal Women’s Program Lifetime Achievement Award in engineering, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Lifetime Achievement Award, the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award and the Exceptional Civilian Service Award. In 2021, Welker was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.