On a lovely May morning at the Scott Amphitheatre, Swarthmore College’s Class of 2016 last Sunday came to the end of their shared undergraduate academic journey, and began their individual journeys from Swarthmore to destinations both intended and unforeseen. The class of 2016 included 359 graduates, 346 of whom received Bachelor of Arts degrees and 25, Bachelor of Science in engineering. (There were twelve double degrees.)
Chosen by her fellow seniors as commencement speaker, Honors English major and writer Rose Wunrow confronted the challenge of her office, and addressed it creatively. “There’s no way to ‘sum it all up.’ But thinking of Swarthmore’s values, and its belief in consensus and collection as a way to bring our perspectives together,” she said, she sought classmates’ musings on “what you will miss about Swarthmore, what you are ready to leave behind; … your favorite Swarthmore memories; what you want to carry forward with you.”
She wove together a tapestry of the moments of joy and heartbreak, giddiness and enlightenment they described, concluding “that Swarthmore is a place where you can often unexpectedly find echoes of yourself in other people, while recognizing what makes our experiences unique.”
Wunrow quoted Jack Kerouac in closing, as she and the class of 2016 prepared to hit the road: “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith differentiated between the formal and serendipitous aspects of the college experience of the seniors. “Your academics and your organized activities are your foreground experiences … background experiences shape you as well … Years from now, you may be surprised to find that, in your memory, these background experiences make their way to the foreground, while others fade away. We cannot always anticipate, plan, and predict the moments that will shape us. What matters is that we are fully present for each of these counters, whether big or small.”
Knowledge is but one takeaway for the graduating seniors, Smith said. “As you leave this place, take time to reflect on the ways that it has shaped you. And as you move forward into the next stage of your life, I urge you to cultivate the habits of open-mindedness and open-heartedness you’ve learned in our residential community … This habit of mind can help us to perceive the web of connection that binds our moments to each other; it can hone our intuition; and it can cultivate our sense of compassion towards others.”
Political science professor Cindy Halpern addressed the senior class at Saturday’s Baccalaureate services. Senior Joe Boninger and retiring Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor Barry Schwartz were chosen by seniors to speak at a Last Collection on Friday, at the point of their departure from a college community which has nurtured and benefited from the presence of each.
President Valerie Smith awarded honorary degrees to three eminent scholars with connections to the college (photos by Laurence Kesterson):
• Doctor of Human Letters to cultural historian and film critic Leo Braudy from the class of 1963;
• Doctor of Sciences to climate change researcher and ecologist F. Stuart “Terry” Chapin III from the class of 1966; and
• Doctor of Humane Letters to linguistic and cultural researcher Carol Padden, a longtime adviser to Swarthmore College professors and mentor to students, who delivered her address in American Sign Language.