Smith graduates embrace ‘the in-between’

  • Smith College graduate Maria de Villeneuve adjusts her attire Sunday at the start of the school’s 140th commencement, held at the school’s Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Emma Harnisch, left, celebrates with 2016 graduate Heather Upin Sunday at the start of the school’s 140th commencement, held at the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates including J Burton, center, process in May 20, 2018 at the start of the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Rachel Bir awaits the start of the school's 140th commencement May 20, 2018 in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College senior class president Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar gives the address May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Emma Harnisch, center, waves to faculty while processing out May 20, 2018 at the end of the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Yolanda Watson, left, and Lizette Vargas celebrate Sunday at the close of the school’s 140th commencement held in the indoor track and tennis facility in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY PHOTOS

  • Rita Dove, two-time U.S. poet laureate and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, speaks May 20, 2018 during Smith College's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • William Allan Oram, Helen Means Professor of English Language and Literature, shows his gratitude after receiving one of two Honored Professor Awards May 20, 2018 during Smith College's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, right, hugs Robert Merritt, professor of biological sciences, after he received one of two Honored Professor Awards May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College senior class president Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar, right, presents the class gift to college president Kathleen McCartney May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Carol T. Christ, chancellor of the University of California Berkeley and president emerita of Smith College, center, is given an honorary degree May 20, 2018 during Smith's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Rita Dove, two-time U.S. poet laureate and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, center, is given an honorary degree May 20, 2018 during Smith College's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Maya LaLiberte, center, laughs while waiting to receive a diploma May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A Smith College graduate cheers for classmates walking to receive their diplomas May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, left, presents graduate Nyderia Hall with a diploma May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • People cheer for a Smith College graduate May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduates Yolanda Watson, left, and Lizette Vargas celebrate May 20, 2018 at the close of the school's 140th commencement held in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, left, presents graduate Marisa Douglas with a diploma May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College graduate Isabel Novick cheers May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, left, presents graduate Cecilia Van Driesche with a diploma May 20, 2018 during the school's 140th commencement in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

@ecutts_HG
Published: 5/20/2018 2:41:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As Smith College graduates prepared to receive their diplomas Sunday, they were in — as the school’s chaplain told them — an in-between space.

Matilda Rose Cantwell, the college’s director of religious and spiritual life, urged the graduates in her invocation to embrace the space they occupied — no longer students, neither here nor there.

“For it is in this uncertain and maybe bewildered place where our visions of what is to become take root and grow,” Cantwell said. “I invite you to be in the in-between, in the already and not yet — what writers call the white space between the lines — the place from which meaning ultimately emerges. For if you can practice this today, you can do so for the days and weeks and years to come.”

Due to a threat of rain, the 140th Smith College commencement ceremonies were held in the college’s indoor track and tennis facility. There, the nearly 650 graduates gathered with more than 6,000 family and friends to mark the occasion.

As Eric Berlin, conductor of the University of Massachusetts Brass Choir, played a fanfare on trumpet, the graduates made their way into the facility, passing through the crowd before taking their seat.

Addressing her fellow graduates, senior class president Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar reflected on her time at Smith and spoke of the importance of time. Life, she said, has more meaning when we remember to look back and remind ourselves of all that we’ve experienced, of the lives we touched and the lessons we’ve learned.

“Our worlds are bigger; we are more critical thinkers. We are more informed members of society and after today, we are officially Smith alumnae,” she said. “So make your adventures timeless. Your love, timeless, your courage, timeless. And know that whatever it is that we choose to do next, as the moments and years pass, we will forever be impacted by our time at Smith.”

As keynote speaker, Rita Dove, a two-time U.S. poet laureate and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, shared lessons she was given, at times using poetry to share her knowledge with the graduates.

“What is the mystery of life?” Dove asked the graduates. “Perhaps it is simply that we don’t know. Perhaps the secret of happiness is that we recognize our ultimate ignorance and embrace it. That we cherish the journey life has to offer us, and try to keep that journey moving forward.”

Moving past pontification and, as Dove said, “sentimental abstractions, larger than life, teetering on the horizon like the wind-beaten letters of the Hollywood sign,” she told the graduates that living is specific and mired in details.

Recalling her own daughter’s graduation, Dove said she felt inadequate in her efforts as a mother to prepare her child for what might be waiting beyond graduation.

“But then again, how could any parent have ever prepared you? They don’t really know what’s waiting for you. No one knows that, and especially now, in these precarious times where truth has become a rather insecure commodity,” Dove said. “And since none of us can truly and conclusively predict where exactly we are headed, we must make the most of the journey itself.

“We must remind ourselves and each other that it matters how we conduct ourselves along the way — that we look at the landscape instead of barreling on by, that we have some laughs together rather than complain that our feet hurt — all the while acknowledging that there are no prepackaged, Twitter-size answers to the big questions about the future.”

The key to the path to wisdom, Dove said, is to start with something you know.

“As you venture into the world, taking the road of education into ever broader avenues of possibility, apply what you’ve learned along the way, never forgetting that the key to the kingdom of knowledge is linked to curiosity and appreciation,” she said.

“You have been in incubation but now you breathe on your own — no rarefied ether, but the thick air of life. You must generate your own heat. The mission is a mystery. The door leads out and away; as the word ‘commencement’ implies, it is a door into a new beginning.”

At Smith College, ChiChi Ezeh, 23, of Nigeria, found a place that not only provided the support she was looking for as an international student but also helped expand her understanding of others.

During her four years, Ezeh said, she has learned to open herself up to more possibilities and more identities.

“We are all different and everybody has a reason for being the way they are,” she said.

With her older sister in attendance as well as friends, Ezeh said it felt good to be graduating.

“I’m very excited and relieved that it’s finally happening,” she said.

Speaking before the ceremony, biological sciences graduate Guinevere Vanhorne said the day was a moment of joy for her and her family. Vanhorne, 32, came to Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar after receiving an associate degree at Greenfield Community College. Originally from Jamaica, she now lives in Haydenville.

Getting a bachelor’s degree was not only an important step to her career goal of being a physician’s assistant, but also one to make the lives of her children better, she said.

“It was important for me to take that path because my children have been with me throughout this whole journey and they have been there from the beginning,” she said.

She plans on taking a year off before pursuing a master’s degree.

“The end goal was to make sure that life was better and more affordable for my children,” Vanhorne said. “An associate’s is great, but the master’s is just kind of like the icing on the cake that makes all of that dream come true.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

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