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Graduates are ‘Uniquely Qualified’ to Make the World Better

News of Note

Activist Reshma Saujani gives commencement address


Published May 21, 2023

Speaking at Smith’s 145th Commencement on May 21, gender equality activist and author Reshma Saujani advised graduates to “focus less on being perfect and more on being brave.”

Saujani, an attorney and founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First, questioned the notion that to achieve equality, women must overcome so-called imposter syndrome by adopting “tips and tricks” for individual self-improvement.

“It’s never really been about whether we’re qualified enough, or smart enough, or prepared enough,” said Saujani—the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. “Instead, it’s always been about the political, the financial, the cultural barriers that are designed to keep us out of those rooms in the first place.”

“The problem—and the solution—is bigger than any of us,” she added. “It’s not your job to fix yourself. But it is your job to fix the system.”

Saujani emphasized that Smith graduates are fully up to that task. 

“Your Smith education has prepared you for this moment,” she said. “You've had a tiny glimpse of what our world could be. Now, bring that audacity, agency and authenticity to the world beyond Northampton. Because you are uniquely qualified to make that [better] world a reality.”

The college awarded degrees on Sunday to 626 undergraduates and 40 graduate students. Members of the class of 2023 came to Smith from 40 states and 34 countries.

Graduates high-fiving one another.

Graduates rejoice in the Quad.

Smith awarded honorary degrees to Saujani and five other remarkable women:

  • Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Peabody Award–winning journalist and New York Times Opinion podcast host
  • Gabby Giffords, former United States representative and gun control advocate
  • Susan Goldin-Meadow ’71, Ph.D., psychologist, previous president of the Association for Psychological Science and founding editor of the journal Language Learning and Development
  • Camara Phyllis Jones, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., family physician, epidemiologist and anti-racism thought leader
  • Kelly Link, prolific writer, editor, independent bookstore owner and publisher

Justin Cammy, professor of Jewish studies and of world literatures, and Daphne Lamothe, professor of Africana studies, received Honored Professor Awards for their long and distinguished service as faculty members.

During Commencement weekend, graduates, family members and alums gathered for cherished Smith traditions, including the intergenerational Ivy Day parade on May 20, featuring roses, colorful class year sashes and the planting of ivy.

Sights and sounds at Sunday’s ceremony in the sunlit Quadrangle included bagpipes, creatively decorated graduation caps, and tears and cheers for the class of 2023. 

In her speech to fellow graduates, Senior Class President Haley December Brown ’23 described why Smith has “come to mean so much.”

“It’s not just about the place, it’s the people,” said Brown, who majored in art. “I see how the people that make Smith so special don’t just disappear when we graduate, but stay with us and guide us into this new chapter.”

“So, I look to the future,” Brown added. “I know that I bring all of you, and all of our memories with me, and I feel ready for whatever comes next.”

Haley December Brown addresses her peers.

In her remarks to seniors at Baccalaureate on May 18, Smith President Kathleen McCartney described the special bond she shares with the class of 2023.  

“This too is my final semester at Smith,” noted McCartney, who is retiring in June after leading the college for a decade. Sarah Willie-LeBreton will begin her tenure as Smith’s 12th president on July 1. 

McCartney praised graduates for the resilience they’ve shown during the pandemic, and for numerous achievements during their time at Smith—from earning prestigious fellowships to organizing for racial justice. 

“All of you are change makers,” she said. “Each of you in your own way has pushed our world forward.”

Graduates will now join a community of alums with enduring connections, McCartney said—”a network of powerful, courageous, generous Smithies always ready to step up and support you through life’s unexpected challenges.”

At the close of the Commencement ceremony, McCartney looked out at the sea of graduates, telling them that she wanted to commit the moment to memory so that when she thinks back years from now she’ll remember “smiling faces, the beauty and majesty of our surroundings, and the joy I know you feel from being part of this community.”

“Class of 2023,” McCartney said, “we leave this place together, knowing that we were part of something special, something remarkable, something magical.”


Photos by Jim Gipe and Henry Amistadi