‘Know your power,’ Pelosi urges Smith grads; Mount Holyoke creates online commemoration

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  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros begins her address to the college's virtual commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17, 2020, from the balcony of her Northampton home. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros watches the college's virtual commencement ceremony with her family on Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Northampton. She is joined by her parents, Konstantinos and Sunita Sierros, and her brother, Nikhil, on the balcony of their home where she had just delivered her own address to the commencement. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros waits to deliver her address to the college's virtual commencement ceremony on Sunday. She is joined by her parents, Konstantinos and Sunita Sierros, and her brother, Nikhil, at their home in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros smiles as she watches commencement keynote speaker Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, thank the college for her honorary degree, saying, "Remember, you have a classmate in the Capitol. Come visit." Photographed on Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Northampton at the home of Sierros' parents where she had just delivered her own remarks to the virtual ceremony. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi delivers the keynote address for the Smith College virtual commencement ceremony, as seen on the computer of senior class president, Toula Sierros, at her home in Northampton on Sunday, May 17, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros smiles as she watches commencement keynote speaker Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, thank the college for her honorary degree, saying, "Remember, you have a classmate in the Capitol. Come visit." Photographed on Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Northampton at the home of Sierros' parents where she had just delivered her own remarks to the virtual ceremony. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College senior class president Toula Sierros breaks a nervous smile as she prepares to deliver her address to the college's virtual commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17, 2020. She is joined by her parents, Konstantinos and Sunita Sierros, and her brother, Nikhil, at their home in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2020 7:02:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi addressed graduates during Smith College’s virtual commencement ceremony on Sunday, she recognized that the class of 2020 is “leaving Northampton and beginning the next chapter in a time of extraordinary uncertainty.”

“But one thing is certain,” she added. “You have the advantage of a Smith education — an education measured not only by GPA and test scores, but by the resilience, courage and perseverance you have honed these past four years.”

Pelosi’s words of encouragement were echoed by campus leaders, family and alumni throughout the world as Smith College and Mount Holyoke College both recognized their graduating classes.

Smith College

At Smith, Pelosi commended graduates as belonging to “an extraordinary legacy of trailblazers, groundbreakers and history-makers” as alumnae.

“You graduate in the year that women celebrate 100 years since winning the right to vote,” Pelosi said. “We all carry with us the courage of the suffragists, and you especially carry the courage of your founder, Sophia Smith.”

Among the class of 2020’s accomplishments, Pelosi highlighted students’ work to protect “Dreamers” on campus; achieving “an overhaul of racially insensitive campus policing practices”; and securing a commitment from the college’s board of trustees to fully divest from fossil fuels within 15 years.

“As you begin the next chapter in this time of uncertainty, it is even more necessary that you make your own environment,” Pelosi said. “In the tradition of these iconoclasts and visionaries who came before, I urge you to know your power.”

For Smith College class of 2020 president Toula Sierros, the virtual ceremony is bittersweet, she told the Gazette on Friday. Instead of standing before her graduating class as she and her peers celebrated their commencement, Sierros delivered her speech from the balcony of her family’s Northampton residence via a Zoom livestream.

“I’m definitely thankful for all the work that’s been put into this,” Sierros said of the event, “and I’m also happy we have this event to mark a little bit of closure for us.”

But the anxiety and sadness stemming from the pandemic was also present.

Sierros and her friends have been “trying to find small ways to be together, but the more I think about it the sadder it gets that this would have been our last week together,” she said, referring to the traditional senior week activities that would have taken place prior to commencement.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, Sierros anticipated a relatively quiet day spent with her family at home.

“It’s hard to plan for a celebration that isn’t really a celebration, even though ceremoniously it really is,” Sierros said. But, she’s sure that her mother “will figure something out to make it feel special, and not just another Sunday.”

Mount Holyoke

At Mount Holyoke College, a team of students, faculty and administration decided to take a different approach to commencement. Rather than holding a virtual ceremony with an awarding of degrees, the college instead created a webpage filled with videos highlighting the class of 2020’s experience and messages from campus leaders, referring to the commemoration as “Marking the Day.”

Kate Meacham, one of the students who helped create the Marking the Day event, said that based on student feedback, the team opted for a scaled-down event to ensure that students don’t feel as if any of the virtual events take away from an eventual in-person commencement.

“Our traditions are something that are special for a lot of students, so we wanted to kind of create something that was new so that it didn't feel like a replacement of all of the ceremonies and events we were looking forward to,” Meacham said.

Mount Holyoke senior class president Olivia Vejcik, who also helped to create the Marking the Day event, said she hopes the videos help give students “a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of belonging, a feeling of joy.

“It’s incredibly difficult to make it through college, especially at Mount Holyoke,” Vejcik said, “so I really hope that they feel accomplished and that they feel proud of what they’ve done over the past four years.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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