Celebrated each year before Commencement, the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Baccalaureate ceremony grows out of an ancient ritual marking graduation. The earliest records of such services appear in the 8th century in England.
“Like all rituals, Baccalaureate helps us to navigate the transitions — in this case the transitions that college graduation brings about,” says HWS Chaplain Lesley Adams. “Everything changes with graduation: friendships, family relationships, responsibilities and opportunities, you.”
On Saturday, May 15, the Baccalaureate ceremony will offer students, families and friends the chance, as Adams says, “to slow down, to breathe deeply, to notice and to process at a spiritual level what is happening.”
The current ceremony follows from an Oxford University ritual, which required that each student earning a bachelor’s degree deliver a sermon in Latin. And although Baccalaureate has been part of our campus graduation rituals for more than 180 years, the ceremony is now in English, and students no longer have to preach.
“In this secular age, Baccalaureate may seem like an ancient relic, but in fact, our Baccalaureate service is a living, breathing tradition,” says Adams.
George and Harriet McDonald, who will receive honorary degrees at this year’s Commencement, will speak at the Baccalaureate ceremony.
George was a private sector executive when New York City’s homeless crisis began to peak in the early 1990s. Having helmed the New York City volunteer office for Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign and run for Congress on a platform of ending homelessness, he eventually decided to leave his lucrative career and devote himself full-time to drawing public attention to the homeless problem. What started as raising money to provide cash assistance for homeless individuals grew to the development of the Doe Fund, an organization that empowers homeless men and women to achieve lives of self-sufficiency. It does this through, among other means, a residential paid work and training program.
Harriet is the executive vice president of the Doe Fund and a Hollywood screenwriter. She and her husband worked together to develop and implement “Ready, Willing & Able,” the first residential paid work and training program for homeless people. As part of this initiative, they secured the funding to purchase and renovate an abandoned building on Gates Avenue, in Brooklyn, and a work contract to hire and train people to renovate city-owned apartments for occupancy by homeless families. Their idea was to forge a workforce from single homeless men and to house them at the Gates Avenue residence. George and Harriet went to the streets, to Grand Central, and to every men’s shelter in the city to recruit participants. From day one, the men outperformed the expectations of the city contract.
The ceremony will begin at 2:30 p.m. in Trinity Church (520 S. Main Street), followed by the Provost and Deans’ reception in the Trinity parish hall at 3:30 p.m.
For more Commencement events, visit the Commencement page.