Huerta leads Mount Holyoke graduates in rousing chant of ‘si, se puede!’

  • Delores Huerta delivers the keynote address during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Marwa Omar Mikati holds up a sash bearing the flag of Lebanon after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Alexandra Murphy Platanitis celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Farah Nabil Rawas celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Holyoke College graduates applaud after their entire class received their diplomas during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Alheri Oneno Egor-Egbe, center, celebrates with her family aftercommencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sarah Elizabeth Carter celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Holyoke College graduates chant along with Delores Huerta at the close of her keynote address during commencement, Sunday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michele Margarita Cubillo Baltodano celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zandra Raven Davis celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zainab Amjad waves her scarf after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ellen Chilemba celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lily Elizabeth Hartley hugs economics professor James Hartley after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Anne Hayden Shaffrey celebrates after receiving her diploma during commencement at Mount Holyoke College, Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 5/21/2017 10:53:08 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — “Viva Mount Holyoke!” and “Si, Se Puede!” (Yes we can!) were the chants that rose up from the Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater Sunday morning as the commencement speaker, civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta, finished her address to the members of the class of 2017 at the college’s 180th commencement.

Huerta, together with Cesar Chavez, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which is now the United Farm Workers of America. She went on to help lead a renowned worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farmworker contracts.

Huerta has spent over 60 years fighting for the rights of farm workers, women and children, and in 2012, at the age of 82, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award by President Barack Obama, who noted at the ceremony that he had adopted his campaign slogan, “yes we can,” from her.

She told graduates that there was a strong need for an educated and compassionate citizenry, lest the “greedy and the powerful will rule and govern.”

“In our society we honor the wealthy, but what about the people who work with their hands?” Huerta said. “When you eat your food, remember that some undocumented person may have picked that food and give them some respect.”

She called on the students to remember that “we all come from one people and we are all immigrants.” She asked them to support labor unions, to fight for science and solutions to climate change, for free education and universal health care, and told them to have courage and faith in themselves as they become leaders, and as they help others to do the same.

“Beware of an addiction to material things,” she said. “Whatever you buy, you can’t take with you when you go. What you can leave behind is a legacy of social justice.”

Huerta then asked if students thought they would be able to do the work they want to do and create a just society, to which they enthusiastically replied: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

Social justice, courage, and perseverance and resistance were the common threads that all speakers wove throughout their commencement addresses.

Student Speaker Anqa Khan, an American born daughter of Kashmiri immigrants, said when she applied to Mount Holyoke her family was living under the poverty line.

“Somehow I made it from the hood of Jersey City to Mount Holyoke,” she said.

Khan gave a passionate speech on how Mount Holyoke students have pushed back against structural racism, inequality and gender bias, and how they have supported sanctuary cities, mandates for addressing climate change and justice for Palestine.

She declared: “If we continue to push ourselves, it is a given that we are going to shatter that glass ceiling from all of that pushing!” 

Writer, television correspondent, investor, entrepreneur and women’s advocate Kathryn Finney received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on Sunday. Finney put a fine point on the importance of women embracing their power and not trying to fit in or go unnoticed.

“There is nothing more powerful than a woman, especially a black woman or woman of color, knowing and owning her person,” she said. “You do yourself and the world a disservice when you shrink, so don’t even try!”

Photographer and filmmaker Joan E. Biren, who has produced groundbreaking works on lesbian visibility, also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Biren, also known as JEB, told the students that a lot has changed since she was a closeted lesbian at Mount Holyoke in the mid-1960s.

“Don’t waste time living a life that is not authentic to who you are,” she said. “As an older person, I can tell you that progress might seem slow, but if you persevere victory is always within reach.”

After graduation, Kaila Beatriz Cantens, 22, of Pennsylvania, an environmental studies major, sported a big, beaming smile as she stood next to her father, Bernie Cantens, for a photograph.

“This is a dream come true,” she said. “I feel like I have come out of Plato’s cave and joined this wonderful society of smart, supportive women.”

Tears streamed down the face of Joana Hassan, 24, of Ghana, who had 12 of her family members come to see her graduate.

“This is the best thing that I have ever done in my life,” Hassan, an economics and political science major said. “I have enjoyed every moment of being here and loved how we are taught to be bold and strong.”

Dan and Kitty Beller-McKenna of Durham, New Hampshire, said they were exceptionally proud of their daughter Lydia Beller-McKenna, 21, graduating as an english major.

“She has definitely gotten a great education here,” Dan Beller-McKenna said.

“What I love is that Mount Holyoke has such a great history of empowering women,” Kitty Beller-McKenna said. “I think we are going to miss coming here!”

More than 575 degrees were conferred at Sunday’s commencement, and 32 states and 37 countries are represented in the class of 2017.

Acting President Sonya Stephens told the graduates “you have made a difference at Mount Holyoke, and now you will make a difference in the world!”




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