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Mount Holyoke celebrates achievements - and 'weirdness'

Hundreds of the student’s family members, friends and relatives swiftly answered their proclamation with their own volley of shouts and cheers as the women – and also a few men – of the Mount Holyoke Class of 2013 made their way around the perimeter of the field and began filing into the center section of the packed amphitheater, slowly transforming it into a sea of black robes, square-brimmed caps and baby-blue sashes.

Those who could not fit into the crowded stadium sat on the lawn in front of the amphitheater, where they were able to watch the event on a giant, closed-circuit television screen.

Members of the college’s faculty and staff dressed in colorful honorary robes soon joined them, taking seats on the stage facing the audience while Mary Graham Davis, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, took to the podium to deliver the event’s opening address.

“Let me be the first to offer my congratulations to the class of 2013!” Davis exclaimed, noting that her own Mount Holyoke class of 1965 had shared the same graduation color as this year’s: green.

“Your four years here have been a great journey, your academic achievements have been many and your understanding of today’s global world has been strongly embedded,” Davis said. “That journey of life-long learning will continue long after you leave South Hadley. You join the 35,000 alumni making this world a better place.”

Lynn Pasquerella, the college’s president, also expressed her congratulations to the students while highlighting their achievements over the course of their college careers.

In addition to the 616 Bachelor of Arts, three Master of Arts, and two Master of Arts in Teaching degrees — as well as 17 international student certificates — that were presented at the ceremony, a number of honorary degrees were awarded exclusively to Mount Holyoke alumni for the first time in the college’s history.

The honorary doctorates were conferred upon Joanne R. Lupton, a nutrition scientist and Texas A&M professor from the class of 1966, award-winning documentary filmmaker and 1983 graduate Mary Mazzio, and UBS managing director and former deputy chief of staff for policy to President Barack Obama, Mona K. Sutphen.

“It was Mount Holyoke that taught me to have a voice and to use it loudly, to push the boundaries of what might be possible. To never give up, to discover that failure is not an end, but a beginning,” said Mazzio, during her acceptance speech. “It was at Mount Holyoke where I learned that life is short, and that you have to live hard, love hard and make every day count,” she said.

Social justice advocate and 1985 Mount Holyoke graduate Kavita N. Ramdas also delivered the ceremony’s keynote address, in which she spoke at length about women’s rights, her appreciation for the school and the world’s need for “uncommon women.” “We need women who are so strong that they can be gentle, so educated that they can be humble, so fierce that they can be compassionate, so passionate that they can be rational, and so disciplined that they can be free,” said Ramdas. “We need uncommon women, and here you are. To me it is incredibly heartening to know that wherever I go, Mount Holyoke alumni will be there,” she said.

Additionally, she talked about some of the issues confronting her home country of India, and about participating in the protests that followed the gang rape of a young woman on a bus there in December 2012.

“Living in Delhi again, 30 years after I left to come to Mount Holyoke, has been an intense reminder of the value and staying power of a liberal arts education at a women’s college,” said Ramdas. “Having been here and having had the opportunity to free my mind from the dominant discourse has made it possible for me to think and act different,” she said.

During her student address, Jenna M. Ruddock took the opportunity to remind the graduates of something besides their collegiate achievements: the weirdness of Mount Holyoke.

“Today, I don’t need to remind you that you’re great. Because today, you know that,” said Ruddock. “Instead, I’d rather take a moment to remind you about weirdness, about how weird Mount Holyoke is,” she said, describing a number of the college’s well-known traditions, including Mountain Day, canoeing in the campus’s ponds the night before commencement, and the practice of “Elfing” new students.

“We’re about to graduate from a school that can, and did, form a Lunar Howling Society. Where we’ve taken classes on Sherlock Holmes and forgery and still got to graduate, and where no one is surprised when someone whips out knitting needles in class,” she said. “Today, look around you and soak it all in. Take a bit of all this weirdness and bring it with you, and when life just isn’t working out the way you hoped it would, take a step back and pull out that bit of weirdness.”

Though the event’s program stated that the graduating class preferred for there to be no applause from the audience during the conferring of degrees, geysers of excited cheering sprang up periodically throughout the audience as each student crossed the stage, signifying the end of their undergraduate education.

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