Marking the moment: Rally Day returns to Smith

  • A Smith senior poses for a selfie during Rally Day, wearing a custom-made hat along with graduation regalia. Aiden Wright/SMITH COLLEGE

  • Vanessa Daniel, Class of 2000, speaks to Smith College seniors during the Rally Day ceremony at John M. Greene Hall at Smith College on Thursday. Shana Sureck/SMITH COLLEGE

  • Sarah Willie-LeBreton, who will become the 12th president of Smith College in July, and Kathleen McCartney, the school’s current president, stand together on stage celebrating the school’s Rally Day. Shana Sureck/SMITH COLLEGE

Published: 2/24/2023 2:39:26 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Rally Day, one of Smith College’s oldest traditions, returned in full force on Thursday, the first time since February 2020 that it had been held fully in person.

The event is a celebration for the school’s graduating senior class, who wore their graduation regalia for the first time as well as decorative hats custom-designed for the event. Medals were also handed out to four former Smith College alumnae in recognition for their career accomplishments and social impact.

“Rally Day is a favorite of mine because it’s a moment for us to come together in celebration of the very best of Smith,” Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said in her introductory remarks at John M. Greene Hall, where the Rally Day ceremony took place. “Traditions matter. They are the things, the markers in the moments, that not only connect us to the past, but also help us to see who we can become.”

The four medals given out this year were to Kathleem Toomey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, who oversaw the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic; Tori Murden McClure, the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean and president of Spalding University in Louisville; Vanessa Daniel, founder of the Groundswell Action Fund, which funds women of color-led social justice organizations; and Shaharzad Akbar, a native of Afghanistan who advocates for human and women’s rights for her home country.

While Toomey was not available to accept her award in person, McClure and Daniel attended the event and Akbar spoke via a live video transmission.

Speaking in front of the gathered audience of class seniors, McClure told them that most of her greatest accomplishments had their origins during her time at Smith. It was there she began rowing, and her Smith connections first gave her the idea of being a university president, she said.

“The history of women on this planet is not written for Smith women,” she said. “The history of women on this planet is written by Smith women.”

Daniel recalled her first days at Smith, being intimidated by many of the other women in her class but encouraged by her professors to speak at a symposium. She eventually helped found a feminist campus club and traveled to Seattle to take part in protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999.

“In a world that teaches girls and gender-nonconforming people from a young age to hide, to mute our voices, Smith consistently says, show up,” she said. “We have some work to do to realize democracy in this country and to save this planet.”

For Akbar, being at Smith first came with a culture shock from her origins in Afghanistan, but she soon felt a sense of community and allowed her for the first time in her life to grow and flourish.

“I found like-minded friends from across the world,” she said of her time at Smith. “I want to claim a similar space of freedom, reflection and growth for other women, to the extent I’ve had in my own career.”

Also attending the event was Sarah Willie-LeBreton, who will succeed McCartney as the 12th president of Smith following the end of the semester. Willie-LeBreton took the stage with McCartney, the two donning hats with “12” and “11” inscribed on them, respectively.

Following the medalists’ speeches, awards were handed out to Smith seniors judged to have designed the best hats in a variety of categories. The award winners this year were Aneliz Vargas, Clara Li, Jenna Stanley, Shastia Azulay and Haley-December Brown.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at

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