Graduates, their families, and other members of the Wesleyan community gathered for the 185th Commencement ceremony on May 28.
This year, Wesleyan conferred 763 bachelor of arts degrees; 38 master of arts degrees; 19 master of arts in liberal studies degrees; 1 master of philosophy in liberal arts; and 10 doctor of philosophy degrees.
The distinguished writer Claudia Rankine delivered the commencement address and also received an honorary degree. A poet, essayist and playwright, Rankine is the recipient of numerous awards for work described as fearless in its pursuit of new directions in American poetry.
Rankine began by congratulating the graduates on their many accomplishments.
“It matters to me that you know all you have achieved, because unless you understand that, you won’t be willing to attempt the impossible, you won’t be willing to work toward a goal knowing you might fail,” she said.
“What I personally love about this kind of uncertainty is that it allows for the creation of a habit of being that is willing to risk the self in service of the formation of some unknown. And the exciting part is that alongside failure lives possibility,” she went on. “What I wish for you is that you will pursue our unknown and unrealized imagined possibilities, even though the imagined/unimagined resides with such close proximity for failure. To pursue something because it matters to you, to your moral expectations for the world; to pursue something because the way it occurs now is, to be blunt, unjust, to pursue and invest in change despite not having the power to implement it directly, is to be willing to fail. Then success is beside the point. That something matters to you, truly, madly, deeply, becomes the point. That someone matters is the point.” (Watch video)
Honorary degrees also were presented to Jo Handelsman, former associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Cristina Jiménez Moreta, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country.
In his address, President Michael Roth applauded the graduates for their commitment to political and social engagement during what has been a difficult time in our country.
“At a time when nihilism is cloaked in intellectual sophistication, and when many are tempted to retreat from the corruption of the public sphere, your cohort at Wesleyan has made a point to stay engaged,” he said. “You reject retreat by working with environmental groups, from Long Lane Farm to international organizations combating climate change. You reject retreat by standing together to end mass incarceration, or by building solidarity with those marginalized by the dominant culture. You reject retreat by standing by your principles and standing with those desperate for allies.” (Watch video)
Elizabeth Shackney ’17 delivered the senior class welcome, in which she discussed what she has learned at Wesleyan about “becoming a person.”
“The key to being a person within a community lies at the intersection of accountability and belonging. Accountability means taking responsibility for the fact that what you do and what you say has an impact. I felt this most as a student government leader, as I realized that my work wasn’t just about doing what I believed was best; instead, I engaged with members of my community and learned through trial and error to speak with, and not for or over, my peers,” she said. “At the same time, becoming a person is facilitated by feeling that you belong somewhere, by believing that you will be loved even if you make a mistake. When you drove ten hours to come to my dad’s funeral in the middle of the summer; when you watched me dance, play tennis, or tell a joke and still let me hang around—many big and tiny memories remind me that here, I have been loved. Those moments when I felt most that I belonged were when I felt most committed to the betterment of this community. A sense of belonging is sustained by accountability, and accountability relies upon a foundation of care.” (Watch video)
During the commencement ceremony, John ’62 and Gina Driscoll received the Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association.
John Finn, professor of government; Andrea Roberts, associate professor of the practice in chemistry; and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, professor of science in society, received the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr. Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.
The full Reunion & Commencement Weekend photo gallery is here.
The text and video of Claudia Rankine’s address is here.
The text of Jo Handelsman address is here.
The text of Cristina Jiménez Moreta’s address is here.
The text and video of President Michael Roth’s address to the Class of 2017 is here.
The text and video of Elizabeth Shackney’s senior class welcome is here.
Information on the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching recipients is here.
Information on alumni receiving Distinguished Alumni, Outstanding Service, and McConaughy awards is here.
Information on the Baldwin Medal recipients is here.
Check out the R&C Facebook coverage here.