Having persevered through an unprecedented academic year, the Classes of 2021 received their diplomas during an in-person ceremony held on the Quad.
The “once-in-a-lifetime” challenges of the pandemic have been a dramatic test of resiliency for this year’s graduates, as well as a “catalyst for thinking about the nature of work, what is important in life and how to help everyone move into the digital future with equity and dignity,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden L.H.D. ’21, the 2021 Commencement speaker at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress and first woman and the first African American to lead the national library, was awarded an honorary doctorate during the Commencement ceremony, as well as the 42nd Elizabeth Blackwell Award. Named in honor of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree, the Award is given by Hobart and William Smith Colleges to a woman whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity. The award was presented to her by Honorary Member of the Board of Trustees Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68, L.H.D. ’18.
Hayden invoked Blackwell in her Commencement address, noting the previously unfathomable achievement of a 19th-century woman earning a medical degree and graduating at the top her class. “Elizabeth Blackwell predicted: ‘100 years hence, women will not be what they are now.’…‘None of us can know what we are capable of until we are tested.’ This past year has been a test for all of us. It made you stronger and opened your eyes to opportunities and some surprising possibilities,” Hayden said, calling on graduates to “make your own history with even more self-determination and faith in your abilities. Remember: this is your time. This is your history to be made.”
Sunday’s ceremony was the 196th Commencement of Hobart College and the 110th Commencement of William Smith College. The Colleges awarded degrees to 514 undergraduates and 10 master’s candidates. The Colleges also awarded honorary degrees to Director of Public Health for Ontario County Mary Beer and Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva and the Geneva Community Center Chris Lavin ’81.
In her valedictory address, President Joyce P. Jacobsen praised the campus’ collective strength over the past year and “the tenacity, dedication and sheer willpower of its individuals.”
“Faculty members, coaches, classmates, friends, people you took transformative classes from and sought advice from, people who helped you when you were down, when you needed a hand,” Jacobsen said, are the “glue” that hold “this community together through good times and through bad.”
In learning to “interact with a whole range of people in a whole range of different ways on a whole range of topics and…[learning] how to make those interactions work for all parties concerned,” graduates “were learning more about how to be glue, too,” she said. “Go forth and be the glue. Pay it forward by providing your glue to other communities to help hold them together.”
Student speakers Sarah Berman ’21 and Jackson Lesure ’21 reflected on resilience and adapting to uncertainty.
In her speech, Berman described how as a writing and rhetoric major, she looks at the world less “as a plan that needs to go in sequential order,” and more “as a rough draft, constantly being revised…It’s okay to have a plan but remember to be flexible…. Embrace what you’ve been through and demonstrate how you learned to be flexible and adaptable.”
“Our stories don’t need to be perfect, and neither do we, even if sometimes it can feel that way,” Lesure said. “We are not new to standing at the edge of amazing opportunities, feeling hesitant to make the jump, and we are not required to have everything figured out before jumping in…Let’s embrace our futures with the understanding that in the face of uncertainty, the only thing we need is the courage to be ourselves.”
During the Commencement ceremony, Craig R. Stine ’81, P’17, chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the annual Touching the Future awards, which celebrate and honor educators from elementary, middle and high school who have had an impact on current HWS graduates. This year, the Colleges recognized: Laura Burrell Baxter, Director of College Advising at the Key School in Annapolis, Md., nominated by Edie Falk ’21; Dave Trejo, Principal of Environmental Charter Middle School in Gardena, Calif., nominated by Robert Padilla ’21; and Megan Wright, a high school English teacher at Alexander Central School District in Alexander, N.Y., nominated by Joshua Hylkema ’21.