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‘Priceless Work to Do’: Smith Celebrates the Class of 2024

News of Note

The college celebrated the class of 2024 at Commencement on May 19 with words of wisdom and inspiration from five honorary degree recipients.


Published May 19, 2024

Gratitude, resilience, and the power of human connections were themes woven throughout Smith’s 146th Commencement on May 19.

The college awarded 627 undergraduate degrees Sunday and 41 graduate degrees. Members of the class of 2024 came to Smith from 45 states and 23 countries.

Presiding over her first Commencement, Smith President Sarah Willie-LeBreton encouraged graduates to celebrate the day as the start of a new chapter.

“With beginnings come hope and curiosity, uncertainty and anxiety, relief and resolve,” she said. “Let the joy and warmth of this day fortify you and carry you forward into whatever is next, where you’ll spread your own joy and gratitude and love so that others may feel it, too.”

In a break from tradition, there was not one keynote speaker at this year’s ceremony. Instead, each of five honorary degree recipients offered words of wisdom and congratulations to graduates—one in the form of an original poem.

Honorary degrees were awarded to:

  • María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, poet laureate and feminist intersectional educator
  • Ruth E. Carter, two-time Academy Award winning American film costume designer
  • Ertharin Cousin, CEO & managing director of Food Systems for the Future
  • Jill Lepore, award-winning academic, journalist and writer
  • Reeta Roy, CEO of Mastercard Foundation

Read remarks from the 2024 honorands.

In remarks sprinkled with words in the languages they grew up with—Spanish, French and Bambara—student speakers cited the unique challenges members of the class of 2024 have faced. Key among them were a global pandemic that meant missing their high school graduation ceremonies and, more recently, violence in the Middle East that sparked a wave of protests at Smith and nationwide.

Speakers acknowledged the global complexities and the “chaos” that graduates must contend with—and also the strengths they bring to the task of making positive change.

“You have proven that Smithies are resilient scholars and leaders who truly care and advocate for equity and justice not only on campus, but in the world,” said Vanessa Nicole Burgos-Ramos ’24, president of the Student Government Association. “I have no doubt in my heart that the class of 2024 will change the world for the better, just like you have on campus.”

Senior Class President Hamssatou Almahamoudou Maiga ’24 urged fellow graduates to “pay attention. Ask questions,” and seek out “unexpected connections.”

“We can bring change; we have priceless work to do,” Maiga said. “Because we are artists, we are scientists, we are researchers, we are activists and engineers, we are writers of novels and stories. We are computer scientists. We are more than enough, because we are Smithies.”

Commencement weekend featured much loved Smith traditions including concerts, teas, candle lighting, and the student/alum Ivy Day parade on May 18.

Speaking to Ivy Day participants representing five decades of college history, Peggie Ward Koon ’74, president of the board of the Alumnae Association, noted that the class of 2024 is now part of “one of the strongest alum networks on the planet.”

“I hope that each of you will lean into all that our amazing Smith network has to offer,” she said, “and like the Smithies before you, will create a future filled with joy, hope, and opportunities for growth and success—knowing that Smith will always be your home.”

In her closing words at Commencement, Matilda Cantwell M.S.W.’96, Smith’s director of religious and spiritual life, urged graduates to treasure the bonds they’ve forged through difficult times.

“Joy and sorrow depend on each other,” Cantwell said, quoting the poet Ross Gay. “My hunch is that the joy that emerges from our common sorrow will draw us together. Go in peace.”

Words of Wisdom

Here are excerpts from Commencement speeches by this year’s honorands:

María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado

From her poem, “Today, I Celebrate You“

“Today/I/a first-generation student/born in Manatí, Puerto Rico/& raised by foundry & factory workers/in the North End of Springfield, Massachusetts/celebrate with you/the kind of life each of you has shaped/these past few years at Smith/where your liberal arts learning IS limitless/where each of you has learned how to replace/any fears with creative ingenuity, to bury/uncertainty under the fierce blooming/of your spirited awareness/that you harness/self-transformational powers/ with every course, lab, creative practice/with every fruitful interaction, friendship/with every necessary act of self-love. Self-care. Self-definition.”

Ruth E. Carter

“Life is a lot like a movie—it’s filled with plot twists, unexpected turns and plenty of drama. Before dialogue is uttered, costumes tell the story of the character. Who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. The more nuanced the qualities of the character, the more unique the costume… Whatever path you have chosen, seek out the details that add color, pattern, and texture to your stories. Embrace your uniqueness and trust your voice…Continue to be unapologetically yourselves. And in the words of Queen Ramonda [from the Black Panther series]: ‘Show them who you are!’”

Ertharin Cousin

“Your degree is a big ole’ powerful tool. The experiences you have and will gain are powerful tools. The lessons you will continuously learn and the resulting wisdom you will achieve are all powerful tools. These tools equip you to do the things, to perform the work, to change things too many people ignore or sadly don’t care about. To change the things other people pray to accept as too difficult to change…. Resolve to embrace the too-hard-to-change things. Ignore the naysayers, convert the possible and build a posse of the like-minded. And let the words of Nelson Mandela serve as your mantra and your north star: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ Let your passion be unstoppable, and let’s get change done!”

Jill Lepore

“I write about history and I could tell you, now, here, today, to care about the past. But that’s not what I want to say to you. I want to tell you how much I love this world, this New England breeze, the crispness of each apple, the dirt between your toes, the whistle of each chickadee. Go to the woods, to the water, the sea, the mountain, the city park, the community garden, the neighborhood playground…. Be a creature, be a mammal, be warm and caring and tender, mammalian, and human, and be humane. Cultivate. Cultivate. Cultivate the land, from the basketball court to the mountaintop. Cultivate. Bring what you know, what you’ve learned here... out into the woods, into the city, into the dark of night, where the wind rustles. Cultivate this world, its creatures. Cultivate—and I know you will—please cultivate knowledge.”

Reeta Roy

“I am deeply touched by this recognition. It is particularly moving because I so relate to the values Smith stands for: audacity, agency, and authenticity. …To the class of 2024, congratulations. Know that you will thrive in this complex and wonderful world, if you keep dreaming, stay curious, see others for who they are without passing judgment, and stay open to redefining who you are through the ebbs and flows of life. Generation after generation of women have benefited from the sweat, sacrifices, leadership, and courage of grandmothers, of mothers who changed the trajectory of their lives, their careers, and accomplishments…. Like many others, I feel blessed to come from a lineage of strong women without whom I would not be here today. I ask you to think about who matters in your life. It is so important that we celebrate grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Smith who had such a profound impact. If she were here today, I would say, ‘Mom, this honor is yours.’...Who do you celebrate because you are graduating today? Say their names! It sounds like you are ready. Go forth to a world that is waiting, waiting to be renewed by you.”

Scenes from the Weekend

Take a look back through photos from the festivities, from Baccalaureate to Ivy Day and the Commencement ceremony itself.