‘This goes beyond bittersweet’: Amherst College graduates 484 seniors

  • Jack Barrett, an environmental studies major from Concord, strikes a pose in line to get his diploma at Amherst College graduation on Sunday, May 26, 2019. ANDREW GRETO

  • A sea of 2019 Amherst Collage graduates parade in among family and friends at the college’s graduation on Sunday, May 26, 2019. ANDREW GRETO

  • Christopher Lewis, an economics and psychology major from Kingston, Jamaica, proudly waves his country’s flag after receiving his diploma during Amherst College’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 26, 2019. ANDREW GRETO

  • Helena Burgueno, a film and media major from Hamden Connecticut, was the senior class speaker at Amhert College’s graduation Sunday, May 26, 2019. ANDREW GRETO

  • During Amherst College graduation on Sunday, May 26, 2019, Julia Asin of Palo Alto, California, Aminah Austin of Miami, and CJ Bachmann of Port Jefferson New York, cheer on their fellow classmates. ANDREW GRETO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2019 6:10:49 PM

AMHERST — Amherst College graduating senior Helena Burgueño remembers a particular moment from her sophomore year. Feeling completely overwhelmed one day, she went to her room, turned off the light and ate an entire box of graham crackers in the dark.

“When you’re eating your feelings with graham crackers, that is a major low,” she told the crowd listening to her senior speech at the liberal arts college’s graduation on Sunday.

“I don’t want to romanticize my time at Amherst because this was not easy,” Burgueño said. “And ‘not easy’ means something different for each of us.”

But for Burgueño, pointing out the times of struggle in her college career is important.

“Acknowledging hardship doesn’t devalue the experience of being here,” she said. “If anything, it makes today feel like more of a celebration.”

Burgueño was one of 484 Amherst College graduates who received their diplomas in a ceremony on the school’s main quad.

Parents, grandparents, siblings and others sat in chairs on the grass watching, surrounded by idyllic red brick buildings and a clear view of the Mount Holyoke range. A gigantic blowup purple mammoth — the college’s mascot as of April 2017 — stood in the corner of the quad.

Just after 10 a.m., the long-awaited graduates processed to their seats wearing various stoles and cords on top of their gowns. Parents and others exchanged excited waves with their loved one and snapped photos.

Temperatures climbed above 80 degrees as midday approached and the sun was unrelenting with few clouds in the sky. Some spectators migrated from their chairs on the lawn to stand in the shade under trees. Many donned hats and sunglasses, and others tried to shield themselves from the sun with their programs.

Honorary degrees went to Harvard neuroscientist David P. Corey, photographer Annie Leibovitz, Cape Town, South Africa Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, science writer Charles C. Mann, Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala, journalist Cullen Murphy and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin delivered an address. Reflecting on the last four years, Martin said she looked back at all the messages she had sent to students and found a long list of them, including those about immigration policy, DACA status, transgender rights and environmental policy.

“When I look at the list I am struck, as you have been, at how much you have been through in four years, how much we have all been through,” she said of the messages.

Martin also praised the students for both their academic and extracurricular work.

“To those who say you are snowflakes,” she said, “I wish they knew and experienced the resilience and courage you show. You have shown these qualities and abilities in classrooms and labs, onstage, in the community, during semesters abroad, on the courts and fields and in the pool.”

Martin pointed to several standout student theses, such as one about undocumented immigrants in Michigan and another about the incarceration of transgender people of color.

“These and many other projects show a commitment to acknowledging difficult truths and realities,” she said.

Quoting poet Adrienne Rich, Martin said, “There is no ‘the truth’, ‘a truth’ — truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity.”

Martin encouraged the students to continue to think deeply. “Please continue to think beyond the either-or, the binary oppositions that we’re being handed today,” she said. “Continue to be open to the complexity of truth.”

After Martin’s speech, the students each walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and then had lunch outside with their families.

Burgueño left her classmates with post-ceremony advice. She encouraged them to reflect on their time at Amherst, which she acknowledged was a challenge for her.

For example, she asked in her speech, “How for example do you describe how excited you are for what is to come when you’re painfully aware of all that you’re leaving behind?”

Feeling all those emotions at once, she said, “This goes beyond bittersweet.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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