Campus News & Events

Bhupathi ’20 Delivers Senior Class Address at 2020 Commencement


Caroline Bhupathi ’20 is a graduating senior from Dallas, Texas, majoring in computer science and minoring in data analysis. While at Wesleyan, she often served as a course assistant for various economics, computer science, and data analysis courses and tutored and managed the Scientific Computing and Informatics Center (SCIC). She was also the recipient of the Plukas Teaching Apprentice Award in Economics and the Mike Rice Prize in Computer Science. In addition to her academic commitments, Caroline was a member of Wesleyan’s only sorority, Rho Epsilon Pi; co-captain of the Wesleyan Club Tennis Team; and a participant in numerous first-year orientation performances, including “In the Company of Others” and “We Speak We Stand.” An active member of Wesleyan’s multicultural community, Caroline considers Wesleyan to be a second home. She made the following remarks (as prepared and previously recorded) during the 188th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 24:

Thank you, President Roth.

Before I begin, I would like to address the elephant in our respective rooms: we are watching our graduation through a screen. To be honest, I was debating whether or not I should even mention the situation. I thought to myself, “We’ve heard enough of it already, what else is there to say?” And there isn’t really more to say, other than to hear it from a fellow student who understands what you are going through.

A day after being told that campus would be closed for the remainder of the semester, I found myself packing up my room in my senior wood-frame house with my brother. The day also consisted of me giving him a tour of the entire campus, a trip down to my favorite restaurant on Main Street, and an endless stream of stories that I shared with him in the car as we drove to and from the store to buy boxes. Once all my belongings were packed, and we were back on the road, my brother said, “Seeing and hearing about your time at Wesleyan reminds me of this quote from a show called After Life, ‘Everybody deserves to be in their local paper.’” It wasn’t until I started writing this speech that I pieced it, this quote, into my own narrative at Wes.

I am a mixed-race woman who never really knew her place. Not saying that I entirely do now, but I am as close as I have ever been to figuring it out, thanks to Wesleyan. Wesleyan, for many of us, is a safe place where we are given the space to not only learn and grow, but to be heard. Can you think of the last time you had five—maybe ten—uninterrupted minutes to speak? I had mine my sophomore year, when I tried to find any excuse I could to come back to Wesleyan early. That excuse took the form of participating in ‘In The Company of Others.’

When I came back to campus a week early for orientation that school year, I went to the first rehearsal to find out that I would be speaking in front of the entire first-year class for ten whole minutes about my identity. Up until then, being mixed meant that I was wedged between contradicting cultures, not being sure which was mine to claim. So this was something that was never asked of me before. After many rehearsals, the day finally came where I stood in front of the first year class to tell them my experience in being mixed as one that meant not knowing if whether or not I’ll find a community already spelled out for me when walking into a new space–that being mixed meant trying to find a sense of belonging.

Those ten minutes gave me the opportunity to take back and redefine my complex identity that had once been defined by others. Not only that, but I had the chance to hear other students’ ten-minute stories of their experiences. Their stories made me realize that there are and always have been many people like me with racially or non-racially mixed backgrounds who feel like their identities have been predetermined. That is, until coming to Wesleyan.

My Wesleyan experience, like many, is not only being heard for the first time, but hearing others. The people at Wesleyan have taught me that we don’t necessarily have to have the same experiences to relate to one another. Wesleyan has meant that I was able to express, for myself, my own everchanging narrative. So, whether it be speaking in front of the first years for ten minutes, being featured as a Wesceleb in the Argus, discussing important campus matters in WSA, leading a protest across campus for an important cause, being inducted into a not-so-secret, secret society, having your band play at MASH, growing food at Long Lane Farm, winning NESCACs with your team, directing a Second Stage play, creating a club to provide a space that was not already there, or writing an honors thesis, Wesleyan has given us the opportunity to discover ourselves and celebrate us, not only as individuals, but as a collective. The lessons we learned and the knowledge that we gained did not diminish once we left campus. We should all be extremely proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished these past few years, and what we have done to finish despite being caught in the midst of history in the making.

I believe I speak for the Class of 2020 when I say we wish we could be there in-person to say, “Thank you, Wesleyan.” Thank you for letting all of us, in one way or another, be featured in your local paper.

Thank you.

Students Honored with 2019–20 Prizes, Fellowships, Scholarships

monogramOn May 22, the Office of Student Affairs announced the names of students who received academic or leadership prizes, fellowships, and scholarships in 2019–20.

More than 300 students and recent alumni received one of the University’s 180 prizes. (View the list below or on the Student Affairs website.)

Scholarships, fellowships, and leadership prizes are granted to students and student organizations based on criteria established for each prize or award. Certain University prizes are administered by the Student Affairs/Deans’ Office, while others are administered by the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD).

Wesleyan Awards 2020 Hamilton Prize for Creativity

HamPrize2020_Winner_Brianna Johnson

Brianna Johnson ’24 is the recipient of the Hamilton Prize for Creativity which comes with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan.

For the fourth consecutive year, Wesleyan has awarded its prestigious Hamilton Prize for Creativity to three students whose creative written works best reflect the originality, artistry, and dynamism of Hamilton: An American Musical, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and directed by Thomas Kail ’99.

Brianna Johnson of The Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, N.Y. was awarded the grand prize—a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan. She was recognized for three songs comprising an album/mixtape titled, “Tell ‘Em The Truth.” In addition, Wesleyan awarded two honorable mentions along with $5,000 stipends to Luka Netzel of Kansas City, Mo. (The Pembroke Hill School) for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers,” and Chiara Kaufman of Rye, N.Y. (Hackley School) for two works of flash-fiction, titled “The Maid” and “The Burials.”

The winning works were chosen from a pool of over 400 submissions this year. Faculty members reviewed entries, while an all-star selection committee of Wesleyan alumni in the arts, chaired by Miranda and Kail, judged finalists.

About the Honorees

Johnson was honored for “Tell ‘Em The Truth,” an album/mixtape comprised of three songs: “Dreams to Reality,” “These Chains,” and “Damages of Duality.” She wrote these songs, among several others, in 8th and 9th grades as she struggled to acclimate to a predominantly white school as one of the only black students in her classes. Around the same time, the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer, and many other senseless killings of black people left her feeling scared and resentful.

“My own America wanted to eradicate me, dehumanize me, make me feel like I was nothing. I was a blank corpse with no identity, no face and in America, no voice,” she wrote in her submission for the Hamilton Prize. “I wanted to change that and so I traded in my anger and disappointment for a pen and paper. I transcribed my emotions into lyrics.”

“When experiencing Brianna’s work, I was struck by the honesty, perspective and structure already present in what she’s creating,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, ’02. “I’m so glad that she’s chosen Wesleyan as the place to continue developing her artistic talents. I look forward to following her artistic journey.”

Committee member and actress Beanie Feldstein ’15 called Johnson’s work a “powerful, moving example of infusing one’s own life-experience into art,” with Johnson putting “her whole being into each lyric, each melody, each performance. […] Her work is wholly raw, vulnerable and masterful. In addition, her art displays radiant strength and an essential commitment to morality that is inspirational. I was rapt and enthralled. It is the work of a young artist you know will do great things and help heal our society.”

Luka Netzel

Luka Netzel ’24

Netzel received an honorable mention for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers.” Set in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969, the play follows twins Barry and Fitz who decide to dodge the draft by joining a nearby Amish community after they are conscripted to serve in the Vietnam War. There, they meet Sarah Ann, daughter of the town’s Minister, who longs to experience the world outside the Amish community.

Author Mary Roach ’81 said she had a “big goofy grin on my face” while reading “Heartful Dodgers.”

“Everything about this piece is fresh, pitch-perfect, professional. Luka has so expertly and lovingly nailed the classical musical genre—the stage directions, the characters’ moves and their back-and-forth singing. And the lyrics! Hilarious and charming. I could see and hear Luka’s vision so clearly in my head as I read. I expect to one day be seeing some of that same creative vision on a Broadway stage.”

Kaufman

Chiara Kaufman ’24

And Kaufman received an honorable mention for two works of flash-fiction. “The Maid” is a stream-of-consciousness narrative from a distressed woman, a wife and mother contemplating a grim future. Committee member Carter Bays ’97, executive producer and writer of How I Met Your Mother, said “The Maid” “captured the mature, complicated voice of a character that I can’t imagine a teenager being able to access.” Kaufman’s other piece, “The Burials,” tells the story of a family, generation after generation, with a dark, secret history.

About the Hamilton Prize

The Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity was established in 2016 in honor of Miranda and Kail’s contributions to liberal education and the arts and named for the pair’s hit Broadway musical, which that year won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. A filmed version of Hamilton will be released on Disney Plus beginning July 3.

Over the past four years, about 2,000 students have submitted stories, poetry, songs, plays, and screenplays for consideration for the prize. Read about past winners in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Learn more about the Hamilton Prize.

Bendall Remembered for Teaching Philosophy 29 Years at Wesleyan

L. Kent Bendall, professor of philosophy, emeritus, died on May 15 at the age of 88.

Bendall received his BA from Rice University and his MA and PhD from Yale University. He arrived at Wesleyan in 1963, where he taught philosophy until his retirement in 1992. During his 29 years at Wesleyan, Bendall was an integral part of the University and the Philosophy Department. He served many terms as chair of the Education Policy Committee and of the Philosophy Department; he also served as chair of the University Senate and was a member of the planning committee for the new African American Institute in 1974.

He was a philosopher who was devoted to the ideal of truth and a rigorous search for it. Joe Rouse, Hedding Professor of Moral Science and Professor of Philosophy, recalled: “Kent Bendall was an excellent logician and philosopher, and a generous colleague and friend. Two considerations will always stand out in my recollection of Kent: his extraordinary clarity of thought and expression, and his utterly unquestionable personal and intellectual integrity.”

Aaron, Autry, Shinohara Honored with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Every spring, Wesleyan recognizes outstanding faculty with three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching.

This year’s recipients include Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, Robyn Autry, associate professor and chair of sociology, and Keiji Shinohara, artist-in-residence.

Made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, these prizes underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Rosenthal to Receive Baldwin Medal

Rob Rosenthal

Rob Rosenthal

At the University’s 188th Commencement on May 24, Wesleyan will present the Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association, to Rob Rosenthal, John Andrus Professor of Sociology, Emeritus.

The Baldwin Medal pays tribute to the late Judge Raymond E. Baldwin ’16, the only man to have held the offices of Connecticut governor, U.S. senator, and chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. First awarded Sept. 20, 1981, during the opening convocation of Wesleyan’s Sesquicentennial, the Baldwin Medal is the highest honor Wesleyan’s alumni body presents for extraordinary service to Wesleyan or for careers and other activities that have contributed significantly to the public good.

Rosenthal served as Wesleyan’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs from 2010 to 2013, and as director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life from 2014 to 2017. He returned to serve as interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs again from July 2019 through May 2020.

Students Pitch Social Benefit Business Ideas

Be Better

Blake Northrop ’22, won the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition on May 5 with his venture, Be Better, a clothing brand focused on producing sustainable products.

A clothing brand that promotes education and discussion of mental health and wellness is the winner of the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition sponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Created by Blake Northrop ’22, Be Better consists of the clothing brand itself—which highly values customer participation and artist collaboration—as well as an online community forum for followers and members to connect, discuss, and share their stories about mental health.

On May 5, Northrop and more than dozen other aspiring student entrepreneurs pitched their social benefit business ideas. Watch a recording of the Pitch Night online here.

Wesleyan to Hold Virtual Commencement Ceremony on May 24

monogramWesleyan’s 188th Commencement Ceremony, honoring the graduating Class of 2020, will be held through a virtual setting at noon on May 24.

(View the Commencement website here.)

The commencement address, honorary degree recipients, and the senior class address will be pre-recorded and offered for viewing on Commencement Sunday. The conferral of degrees and remarks made by Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 will be presented live. The Binswanger Awards for Teaching will be presented on a future occasion.

The Class of 2020 will be invited back to campus next year for an in-person ceremony.

“We will miss the marching, the music, and the mortarboards in the air,” President Roth wrote in a campus-wide email on May 6. “Nonetheless, there will be much to celebrate: primarily, the resiliency of our seniors and our graduate students who managed to hold the course in the face of unforeseen difficulties and disappointments.”

A formal e-invitation to graduating students and their families and the Wes community is forthcoming.

“Normally at Commencement, celebrants sit close together on Andrus Field, or up behind the podium on Denison Terrace or over on Foss Hill,” Roth said. “May 24 will be different, but even if we sit far apart from one another, the power of togetherness will be strong.”

Traveler’s Lab Creates Map of COVID-19 Cases in the NYC Commuting Region

COVID-19 map

Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab released a time-enabled regional map of COVID-19 cases in the tri-state area surrounding New York City.

In late March, as New York City’s coronavirus infection rate skyrocketed to five times higher than the rest of the country, members of Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab explored a movement-focused approach to the rapid spread of the disease.

Rather than focusing on political borders, lab members depicted major freeways, highways, and commuter rail lines out of New York City, and examined counties within a 2.5-hour drive from the City.

“While New York City may be the center, it is the travel region immediately surrounding the city that provides the true context of how COVID-19 has spread and is spreading to, and from, the City,” said Traveler’s Lab manager Jesse Torgerson, assistant professor of letters. “Informed by geographic and historical methods, this approach provides a truer context for human interactions.”

Wesleyan Announces 2020 Honorary Degree Recipients

At the University’s 188th Commencement on May 24, Wesleyan will present honorary degrees to three recipients whose work exemplifies inclusive engagement.

Jacqueline Woodson, an award-winning and best-selling author, is this year’s speaker. Actor and political activist Bradley Whitford ’81 and William Joseph Barber II, a social justice advocate and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, will also be honored. The recipients were chosen on the basis of their significant contributions to civic life in the United States, including the example they set in bringing new voices into the public sphere and spurring others to productive dialogue and action.

“I am honored to celebrate at Commencement three remarkable individuals whose work has educated people across the country,” President Michael Roth ’78 said. “Through their creative and inspiring contributions, they empower and encourage us to work toward creating a better world.”

Rich Honored Posthumously with the 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize

brooke rich

Bon Appétit cashier Brooke Rich, center, pictured here with her three children, is the posthumous recipient of Wesleyan’s 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize. Rich died March 4.

Brooke Rich, a former employee of Wesleyan’s food service provider Bon Appétit Management Co., was honored posthumously with Wesleyan’s 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize.

The award was created in 2009 in memory of Peter Morgenstern-Clarren ‘03, who pursued social justice while a student at Wesleyan. Morgenstern-Clarren’s activism included securing benefits for Wesleyan custodial staff, participating in the United Student and Labor Action Committee, and contributing his leadership to the campus chapter of Amnesty International.