On a joyful day marked by ritual and ceremony, Wesleyan University bid farewell to the accomplished class of 2022 at its 190th launch, which took place on Sunday, May 22 on Denison Terrace.
“I’m extremely excited. I was ready for this day,” said Amia Hagan ’22. “College is full of trials and tribulations, but there’s a lot of success coming our way .”
Wesleyan University has awarded 793 Bachelor of Arts degrees, 12 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, 39 Master of Arts degrees, two Master of Philosophy degrees in Liberal Arts, 31 Master of Arts degrees in Liberal Studies, and six Bachelor’s degrees in Liberal Studies. (View all photos in this Flickr album)
The university also recognized three outstanding changemakers with honorary degrees – Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who delivered the keynote address; Joseph J. Fins ’82, renowned physician, professor and medical ethicist; and Gloria Steinem, award-winning journalist and political activist.
As the students gathered on Foss Hill to prepare to march to the ceremony, they took photos of each other and spoke to friends and family. Some took a moment to share their future plans. They spoke of Wesleyan as a place where learning to overcome problems and chart your own course was an important part of the experience.
Martha Wedner ’22 and Milena Sigerson ’22 were hanging out together seeking some shade on Foss Hill before queuing for the Beginning. The friends expressed what was a common theme for many students – enthusiasm for the future and a bit of melancholy about leaving university.
“I feel like college time has just passed. I feel a bit existential, but I feel ready and I feel really excited for the things to come,” said Wedner, who hopes to become an agent in Hollywood.
“I’m excited, but I’m really sad about it. But it’s time,” said Sigerson, who will be teaching English in Spain next year.
Jordan James ’22 spent a few moments with his aunt and sister before the ceremony. He felt lucky to have met so many supportive friends and faculty members. “I feel good. Warm, but great. It’s the culmination of a fantastic experience,” James said.
Paris Arnett Jensen ’22 was thrilled because her grandparents flew in from Denmark to see her graduation – the first time she’s seen them since the onset of the global pandemic that plagued the Class of 2022 experience.” I feel like I had some particularly wonderful teachers – brilliant, really caring people,” said Jensen, who will be teaching English culture in Paris.
Shortly before 11 a.m., drums summoned the graduates, who rolled in a cardinal-red wave down Foss Hill. Graduates accepted applause (and occasional hugs) from faculty members at the bottom of the hill before crossing Andrus Field to bathe in the glow of their proud families.
“I feel a mixture of joy and sadness,” said Jane Walker, whose son Ethan graduated on Sunday. “The little boy is no more and we’re about to find out when he’s going to be on his own and make decisions on his own…He’s made the most of his time at Wesleyan.”
President Michael S. Roth 1978 greeted graduates by reminding them that just two years ago the campus community had to practice avoidance, had to learn without contact, removing two of the very things that help make an education special Wesleyan. “Today’s ceremony marks a transition in your life from student to alumnus, bringing to a close four truly extraordinary years, much of which will remain indelibly etched in our collective memory for their many challenges and your uplifting response to those here,” Roth said.
Senior class speaker Kalli Jackson 22 recalled her first day of class on the rainiest day in September. She had forgotten to bring an umbrella and was trudging from Bennet Hall to Fisk Hall, getting soaked. A complete stranger approached her and without saying a word, shared her umbrella. It was the first of many instances where she realized that the best part of Wesleyan often happened when no one was watching.
“Entering a post-Wesleyan world means not knowing what to expect. But, the one thing I do know is that wherever we end up once we go, we’ll all be the person who shares their umbrella with a stranger. When we leave this campus as students for the very last time, there will be a person, an office, a city that gets a little better, just when no one is watching,” Jackson said. (Read the whole speech)
In his remarks to the Class of 2022, President Roth explained how universities can respond to the nation’s longstanding culture wars. He hopes that a Wesleyan education will provide students with the tools to challenge prejudice and cruelty and to be conscious of self-righteousness and moral satisfaction.
“To be true to our academic and civic goals, the Wesleyan Mission reminds us that we must become practical idealists, making peace where we can by promoting open inquiry and free speech. We must defend those who want to participate in this enterprise against threats of violence or marginalization while cultivating respect for intellectual diversity. By practicing cultural peace, we will be more open to discovery, including the discovery that it’s time to change our minds and listen more carefully to others,” Roth said. “Practicing cultural peace in times of cultural war is not easy; but in the long term, it is the antidote we need to cultivate today’s conflict. (Read the whole speech)
Honorary degree recipients urged graduates to demonstrate leadership and use their Wesleyan backgrounds to think interdisciplinary and holistically in the world.
Dr. Joseph J. Fins ’82, who received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, noted that a constant of his Wesleyan days was the symbolic division of Church Street between the sciences and the humanities – from one side of the street is the Olin Library, on the other the Science Library.
He urged graduates to take every opportunity to link disciplines, recalling how he would study chemistry at Olin and read Joyce’s Ulysses at the science library. “Cross your Church Street. Make new connections to solve problems that cross disciplines. Apply your superb – and empowering – Wesleyan education to pressing challenges and make a difference in our too-troubled world,” Fins said. (Read the whole speech)
As an avowed “hope junkie,” political activist Gloria Steinem loves graduations. She sees them as both an end and a beginning, a celebration of lifelong learning and friendships. Wesleyan holds a particularly special place for her. She was close to Sheila Tobias, an associate vice-rector who helped create one of the first women’s studies programs at the university.
Steinem encouraged graduates to imagine the futures they will create. “You are already the generation of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Bans Off Our Bodies.’ You know that the amount of melanin or hormones in our body does not change the fact that each of us comes to this Earth as a unique miracle; an event that could never have happened before or could ever happen again,” said Steinem, recipient of an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
Yet, she said, a third of the country is challenged by gender and racial justice. “Diversity and democracy are like a tree, they do not grow from the top down, but from the bottom up. Remember that what you do every day matters – what you say, encourage, oppose, imagine and love with all your heart – and that includes laughter,” Steinem said. (Read the full speech here .)
Freeman A. Hraboski III met with four Wesleyan students – “my kitchen cabinet” – in preparation for his commencement address. He encouraged graduates to know their own story, where they came from and the sacrifices made to enable them to graduate from Wesleyan. “The older I get, the more I realize there is nothing more important than our families,” Hraboski said.
Hraboski acknowledged that graduates will enter a world full of turmoil, but the Wesleyan values of independent-mindedness and generosity of spirit will help them contribute to solving the problems of humanity. “I challenge you to be bold and chart your own path…never, ever, ever give up,” Hraboski said. (Read the full speech here.)
The University took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of several of its professors.
The ceremony recognized the retirements of four faculty members who achieved emeritus status: Ann Campbell Burke, professor of biology, who served from 1999 to 2022; Anne F. Greene, college professor of English, who served from 1975 to 2022; Joseph L. Knee, beach chemistry teacher, who served from 1986 to 2022; and Ronald W. Schatz, professor of history, who served from 1986 to 2022.
Nine faculty members received honorary Master of Arts ad eundem graduate: Jane Alden, music teacher; Sonali Chakravarti, professor of government; Lisa Dombrowski, professor of East Asian studies; Christiaan Hogendorn, Professor of Economics; Abigail S. Hornstein, professor of economics; Paula Matthusen, music teacher; Brian H. Northrup, professor of chemistry; Seth Redfield, professor of astronomy; and Steven Edward Stemler, professor of psychology. The degree is awarded to faculty members who have not graduated from Wesleyan at the baccalaureate level and who have achieved or have been appointed to the rank of full professor.
In addition, the Alumni Association recognized three outstanding scholar-teachers by awarding them the Binswanger Award for Excellence in Teaching. The recipients were Frederick M. Cohan, professor of biology; María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish; and Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history. The honor was presented by David A. Hill ’86, president of the Alumni Association.
The ceremony ended with a word of blessing from the Reverend William J. Wallace, the university’s Catholic chaplain, followed by the singing of the “Alma Mater” and the Wesleyan “Fight Song.” “May you stay wonderfully ‘weird Wesleyan’, do good, stay loyal and true. As you leave Wesleyan, may Wesleyan never leave you,” Wallace said.
The most important lessons at Wesleyan don’t come to class often. For Karina Burbank ’22, her time at Wes allowed her to be more open with people, to learn, to use her own expression, to grow. “My experience at Wesleyan was unexpected in a good way,” Burbank said. “(I would tell my classmates) to keep fostering your bonds with your classmates…I’ve made some friends I didn’t expect. It was one of the best parts of Wesleyan for me,” Burbank said.