Smith commencement

On this weekend in an ordinary year, the Smith College campus and Northampton, Massachusetts would have been awash in graduating students, their families, and returning alumnae, participating in the traditional activities of commencement and reunion. (While all reunions used to be held simultaneously, now only landmark years, such as the 25th and 50th hold reunions in conjunction with commencement weekend. The other classes meet on the following weekend.)

This year, though, because of the pandemic, the festivities moved online. Saturday evening, the campus would have been illuminated with hundreds of lanterns. Instead, there was a global illumination event, with alumnae and friends of Smith lighting their own lanterns or candles in honor of the class of 2020.  Commencement was livestreamed on Facebook, with a special Zoom experience for graduates, family, and friends.

As a proud member of the class of ’82, I watched the first part of the ceremony. (I admit that I didn’t watch the conferral of degrees, which included the name and photo of each graduate.) I was surprised by how often the alumnae were invoked in the addresses. It’s comforting to know that the strong connections among alumnae and to the institution persist, despite the efforts to divide people that have been so worrisome in the United States in recent years. I add my sincere good wishes to the new alumnae as we all try to find a positive path in the face of these troubled times.

Here are some of the things about the ceremony that I found especially striking:

  • The acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples of the region where the Smith campus now is by Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and College Chaplain Matilda Rose Cantwell ’96
  • The strong bond that President Kathleen McCartney has with the students, the alumnae, and the entire campus community and the sensitivity with which she treated the disruption of the pandemic
  • That 2020 Senior and Alumnae Class President Dimitra Konstantinos Sierros chose to attend Smith for much the same reason I had – because the students she met as a high schooler were so engaged and interesting that she wanted to be a part of such a vibrant community
  • That Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi drew together the accomplishments of notable alumnae and the activism of the class of 2020 in her commencement address, while looking forward to the future endeavors of the graduates

This is not a reunion year for my class. When we meet for our 40th in 2022, I expect that there will be a vaccine and/or effective treatment for COVID-19 widely available so that we will be allowed to travel and gather on campus, although masks and less physical contact may still be a feature of post-pandemic life. I sense, though, that this experience of nurturing community at a distance will make our bonds even stronger.

The class of 2020 may prove to have the strongest bonds of all.

after the concert

Singing the Brahms Requiem was draining, but afterward, instead of feeling tired, I was having a bit of an adrenaline rush. I said some thank yous and goodbyes and headed back to my friend CK’s home.

When CK invited me to stay with her, she had graciously offered to have a few friends from our Smith years over after the concert. As it happened, a couple of guests grew to three, then five, then seven, until finally we were a group of ten alums from ’81-’83 with two spouses, one of them CK’s husband who was our co-host.

CK handled everything with aplomb, starting with cheeses, dips, and deviled eggs, moving on to three delicious homemade soups with bread and three salads, and ending with a make-your-own sundae bar featuring four pints of gourmet ice cream from Bart’s, a local company. And there was malted vanilla!

Whenever Smithies get together, there is an instant connection and always lively conversation. Each of us knew someone else there well, but each also was getting know someone for the first time. We talked about music, of course, as we were all choral singers, about Smith, about generations of family, about technology, and more, in various constellations, for hours.

It was a wonderful way to cap an amazing day!

Parade to Illumination

Saturdays are always the busiest days at Smith reunions. While our 35th is part of the second reunion weekend this time around so that we aren’t here to celebrate Ivy Day with the graduates, we still hold an Alumnae Parade.

The alums all dress in white, with ribbon sashes and other accents in their class colors. The class of ’82’s color is red. After the the marching band, the parade continues with the eldest reunion class first. This year, I believe for the first time ever, we had a woman with us celebrating her 80th reunion! She is 100 years old! Incredibly, although there was both a wheelchair and a golf cart at the ready for her use, she chose to walk arm-in-arm with a companion! As she walked between the lines of alumnae waiting to follow her, she drew much applause and whooping. We should all be so blessed to be granted such robust health to be able to join in our own 80th reunions someday.

The parade led us to seats on Chapin Lawn for our annual meeting of the Alumnae Association. We voted on new officers, listened to addresses from a just-graduated alumna and the college president, and found out our fundraising totals for the previous five years. I’m pleased to say that ’82 did very well.

Next, we assembled box lunches and met at Stoddard Hall for lunch and a presentation by College Archivist, Nanci Young.  Our reunion theme this year is ” Creativity, Connection, Community” and Nanci presented an overview of changing communications at Smith, using materials from the Archives. We had a lively discussion about the current state of communication and how people preferred to interact when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.

My next event was a session with current President Kathy McCartney, giving an overview of the present state of the college and future plans, followed by a Q&A session. I had written a question on the provided cards about fossil fuel divestment, but somehow that question got lost in the shuffle…

Next, I chose to attend vigil Mass at the church up the street from the Quad. This highlighted the loss of the regularly scheduled services at Helen Hills Hills chapel, which had been such an important part of my personal and musical life when I was a student. I participated in many services of several religious traditions, as an organist, choral singer, and accompanist. I miss being able to attend Mass on campus when I return.

Our final class dinner was held at Tyler House. A slideshow of photos from our student and alum days ran on a constant loop. We had final thank yous and the election by acclamation of new class officers. As we ate dinner, one of the storied a cappella groups on campus, the Smithereens, came to sing for us. Conversation and laughter were abundant.

At 8:30, I met a friend from the class of ’81 who lives locally. It was a blessing to get to spend time with her, meet her companion, and catch up on our lives. We also enjoyed the illumination of campus, when hundreds of Japanese lanterns are lit along the paths of the botanic garden and central campus. We finally perched near the Student Center, where a jazz combo was playing on the terrace.

It was a lovely day and a lovely evening.

(And there was no rain!)