Thousands of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and additional extended family members are on their way to Northampton for the seminal moment of their graduates’ Smith College experience: commencement.
Each year they swell into the city, filling hotel rooms and restaurant tables, lining up at the local coffee shops and jockeying for parking spaces along Elm Street on Sunday morning before the 10 a.m. ceremony.
“My parents have had everything planned out since sophomore year,” noted Elizabeth Niehoff ’11, daughter of Edward and Ann Niehoff, who are traveling to Northampton from Bronxville, N.Y.
Leota Boesen of Woodlands, Texas, recalls her family planned even further ahead. “My mother made reservations at the Hotel Northampton in the fall of 1974 so that rest of my family could stay there in May 1978!”
Some families will arrive early enough in the weekend to catch the Ivy Day Parade and Awards Convocation on Saturday morning or attend their graduate’s departmental reception that afternoon. Others will plan to listen to the live music beneath 1,400 rice paper lanterns during Illumination in the evening.
While on campus, many families will crowd into campus dining rooms for the commencement luncheon, following the convocation Sunday morning. Smith Dining Services will host 2,150 family members, in addition to seniors, for the luncheon.
For other meals, Sharon and Chuck Gilbert, the parents of Martha Gilbert ’11, plan to visit their favorite eateries in town. “We plan to dine at Side Street Café in Florence, La Veracruzana, and probably Apollo Grill in Easthampton. And we might try to have breakfast at Sylvester’s but past experience tells us that it might be difficult unless we get up with the dawn!”
Because the Gilberts lived in Northampton for nearly two decades, until about 1997, dining is only one part of their packed agenda. “We’ll visit friends, walk around downtown and enjoy the sights,” said Sharon. “Illumination is a highlight of Commencement weekend for us because Martha is a member of Groove and they will be singing that evening.”
Other families’ weekend agendas include helping their daughters move out of campus housing.
Kristine Morgan-Roehrich and Mark Roehrich of Wisconsin plan to help their daughter Alexis-Clair Roehrich ’11 move out of Dawes House and into a local apartment where she will reside for the summer while working for the Smith Executive Education program.
But the Roehrich family will also take time to appreciate the area. “We love Northampton,” said Kristine. “It is the quintessential New England town.”
Meanwhile those whose students are entering the Smith Class of 2015 might want to make hotel reservations now for the college’s 137th commencement.
After all, “it’s a bit like planning a wedding,” commented Virginia Steinberg ’84.