The theme for Commencement 2023 was “hope”
Mount Holyoke’s one hundred eighty-sixth Commencement was a celebration of the class of 2023 and an ode to fostering hope for the future.
It was an unusually cold and drizzly weekend during Mount Holyoke’s one hundred eighty-sixth Commencement, but spirits couldn’t be dampened as cheers and laughter rang out across the campus in celebration.
Marchers in this year’s Laurel Parade on Saturday, May 20, held umbrellas in their class colors. Alums who decided to brave the elements held signs touting their class’s achievements. “Pangynaskeia began in our era!” read a sign from the class of 1983. “One of us has been to Antarctica!” proclaimed another sign from the class of 2003. Another wry sign from the class of 1983 said, “M&Cs are now mammograms and colonoscopies.”
As the parade wound closer to founder Mary Lyon’s grave, alums sang both the “Alma Mater” and the “Fractured Alma Mater.” The class of 2023 joined alums at the grave for the cherished tradition of singing “Bread & Roses.”
The next day, May 21, was the Commencement ceremony, where the abiding theme was “hope.”
Interim President Beverly Daniel Tatum addressed the more than 60 master’s degree recipients and the more than 500 bachelor’s recipients about their duty to lead. “Let’s be clear; you all have that capacity for leadership. Now is the time to claim it,” she said. “Mount Holyoke has prepared you for this moment. You don’t have to be the CEO or the president of the organization to influence others. We all have a sphere of influence — family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and more.”
She continued, “I have one thing to add to this call to take on the mantle of leadership and that is to encourage you to remain hopeful. Remain hopeful, despite the fact that we’re living in a discouraging time. … Be hopeful and remember that hope without action is naïve optimism. Translate your hope into purposeful activity.”
Student speaker Wilma Ambang Abam-DePass ’23 was both funny and serious when addressing her classmates. “I am proud to say that I can leave here knowing that if there’s one thing I finally accomplished thanks to Mount Holyoke, it is finding my best friends,” she said. “In fact, a famous philosopher once said, ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ His name was Winnie the Pooh. Without you all, there would be nothing to say goodbye to.”
Mount Holyoke awarded honorary degrees to author and professor Lan Cao ’83, physicist Nancy Welker ’63 and author and scholar Imani Perry.
Cao said to the graduates, “As a refugee, an immigrant, a woman, so much of my journey has been about letting go, unlearning, undreaming.” Cao came to the United States when she was 13, fleeing war-torn Saigon without her parents.
She spoke about the racism and loneliness she experienced in high school — she was once called a racial slur during attendance by a teacher. But at Mount Holyoke, she felt embraced and welcomed.
“It was here that I began what was for me the most important lesson in my life’s journey — to recalibrate my dreams,” she said. “Not to add, but to subtract, to let go of what was not me, what someone else had defined and imposed onto me, so that I can add ‘me’ to the equation. Mount Holyoke gave me a firm foothold into the American landscape.”
She added, “Mount Holyoke shaped me into what I am today. I think of myself as made in Vietnam, assembled in the United States.”
Nancy Welker talked about the existential threat of climate change but advised graduates not to lose hope.
“To make the truly enormous progress needed, we must have real breakthroughs in what I will call ‘big science’ or ‘big physics’ — things like controlled fusion, massive solar and wind farms, greatly improved batteries and much more.” She lauded the progress made on controlled fusion.
The final honorand from this year’s Commencement addressed the current landscape: “And now you step into the wider world. And it is challenging. And contradictory. And too often cruel these days,” said Imani Perry.
“I wish we, your elders, had prepared a better adult world for you. A saving grace, however, is that you are not entering it unarmed. In fact, you have a mighty armor, not of steel but of heart, built here on this campus. Wear the virtues of Mount Holyoke and bring who you were at Mount Holyoke with you into the world,” Perry said. “Remember that you do not have to enter any space alone. You bring your sisters and sibs with you and their tradition of integrity, defiance [and] rebellion.”
Mount Holyoke then conferred the class of 2023 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certificates as the audience cheered, rang bells and honked horns. Interim President Tatum said in closing the ceremony, “Graduates, YOU are the embodiment of hope for me.”