‘Make your dreams a reality’: Hampshire College celebrates 52nd commencement as 167 students receive diplomas

  • Since Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach was isolating due to testing positive for COVID-19,  student moderator Judah Vashti Doty, left, joked that she would temporarily “assumed the role” as she read words Wingenbach had prepared for commencement on Saturday, May 21. Doty and Zahria Thomas, right, served as student moderators at the ceremony.  EMILY THURLOW

  • Wolfie Smith, a 2020 graduate of Hampshire College for a degree in animation, is a big dill in this pickle ensemble.  —EMILY THURLOW

  • Iyanu Bishop waves after being presented with her diploma by Christoph Cox, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, during Hampshire College’s graduation ceremony Saturday in Amherst. —EMILY THURLOW

  • Erdim Yilmaz, lead event and retail supervisor at Hampshire College, served as the opener and closer at the graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 21.  —EMILY THURLOW

  • Christoph Cox, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, shakes hands with Sierra Karas during Hampshire College’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 21. —EMILY THURLOW

  • Judah Vashti Doty cheers after receiving her diploma from Christoph Cox, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, during Hampshire College’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 21. —EMILY THURLOW

  • Student moderators, Judah Vashti Doty and Zahria Thomas kept the crowd in high applause as they welcomed each speaker during Hampshire College’s commencement on Saturday, May 21.  —EMILY THURLOW

  • Hampshire College graduated 167 students from the class of 2022 during a graduation ceremony held on Saturday, May 21. The college also had a little over 150 members of the classes of 2020 and 2021 who participated in this year's commencement ceremonies since the institution was unable to hold in-person celebrations for those years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. —EMILY THURLOW

  • Murphy Hunn sports a bascinet, or a medieval helmet, that he crafted while attending Hampshire College during commencement on Saturday, May 21.  —EMILY THURLOW

  • Naia Tenerowicz accepts her diploma from Christoph Cox, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, during Hampshire College’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 21. —EMILY THURLOW

  • Reeba Goldin and her turle Lula don mortarboards for Hampshire College’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 21. —EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2022 4:04:41 PM
Modified: 5/22/2022 4:02:46 PM

AMHERST — Erdim Yilmaz became a U.S. citizen seven years ago.

When he first moved to the country from his native Turkey, he didn’t speak any English and had only $200 in his pocket.

“But (today), I have the privilege of speaking with you all,” Yilmaz told graduates during his staff toast at Hampshire College’s 52nd commencement on Saturday. The early afternoon event was held under a tent in the center of the campus.

Yilmaz, lead event and retail supervisor at the college, was welcomed to the podium with roaring applause and a standing ovation each time he stood behind the podium as the opener and closer of the ceremony.

“So, why me? I’m here because I never give up on my dreams. If you give up, it will never happen,” he said. “You are writers, actors, scientists, painters, video game designers, dancers. You are all dreamers. We are all dreamers. Please don’t give up on your dreams. Make your dreams a reality.”

Christoph Cox, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, presented 167 diplomas to the class of 2022, 32% of whom identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color. Sixteen percent of the class are first-generation college graduates and seven are international graduates.

In addition to the class of 2022, more than 130 graduates from the two previous classes were invited to return to campus to partake in the traditional in-person event.

For the past two years, graduation ceremonies were held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jose Fuentes, chairman of the board of trustees.

“It feels so great and so happy for us to be back and celebrating commencement, especially this year — we’re honoring the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022,” he said.

Fuentes also acknowledged Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach, who was not at the ceremony because he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. The ceremony would have been Wingenbach’s first since taking on the role of president with the college in 2019.

Fuentes encouraged graduates to shout, “We miss you Ed,” as the in-person ceremony was also livestreamed.

Student moderators Judah Vashti Doty and Zahria Thomas maintained the attention of the crowd as they spoke on behalf of the absent Wingenbach. Doty joked as she delivered the president’s remarks, differentiating with her “Ed voice” and her own in between sentiments.

“I will say these things on his behalf, so I think I can be called the president? This is President Judah speaking — what would have been his first in-person commencement since becoming president. … COVID is disrespectful,” Doty said to a laughing crowd, indicating that she was switching back to Wingenbach’s remarks.

“You did what every Hampshire College graduate has always done: you faced ambiguity, embraced radical freedom, learned from failure, and, with the help and support of mentors and colleagues in the staff, faculty, and community, you created something entirely your own, something of quality, beauty, and meaning. That’s what it means to have a Hampshire College degree. It will serve you well for the rest of your life.”

Loretta Ross, an associate professor of the study of women and gender at Smith College, served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.

Ross, a longtime activist, touched upon elements of the courses she teaches on white supremacy, human rights and calling in the “calling out” culture. A former faculty member at Hampshire College, she commended the institution for its approach and willingness to address topics that may be seen as controversial elsewhere.

“There are too many educational institutions that run away from the truth. So, I am so proud that we seek out and attract students who want to be told the truth instead of being protected from the truth,” she said. “At other colleges, they fire professors for the stuff we get to teach at Hampshire.”

The student address was delivered by Iyanu Bishop, who is a first-generation student of Jamaican and Trinidadian heritage. She was selected by her peers to speak at the ceremony.

Bishop said that while she sought out Hampshire College because of the institution’s educational model, it was the friends she made that made her want to stay.

“Each one of us grounded ourselves in the potential this model has and committed ourselves to the obstacles. Even though many of you held roles that were overwhelming, that made you question your gifts, you pushed through,” she said. “Through community, we created new pathways to understanding and new pathways to connection. What is a school without its students? At Hampshire, we are the fire that keeps this place going.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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