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News & Events for the Smith College Community
News of Note May 17, 2021

A Brief Guide to Commencement 2021


Commencement Weekend will look a little bit different this year, offering a combination of on-campus events for graduating students only, and virtual events for families, friends and community members, as well as seniors who cannot attend in person.

Graduating students only will be invited to celebrate in person at Smith’s Commencement ceremony Sunday, May 30, when degrees will be awarded to some 606 undergraduates and 40 graduate students. Honorary degrees will be awarded to:

  • Commencement speaker Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate;
  • Deborah Bial, president and founder of The Posse Foundation;
  • Joanne Campbell, affordable housing advocate and longtime executive director of Valley Community Development in Northampton
  • and Audra McDonald, award-winning singer and actor.

Honorary degrees also will be awarded to five individuals who had been scheduled to receive them in 2020: Northampton educator Gwen Agna; diplomat and climate change activist Christiana Figueres; advocate for immigrants Cristina Jiménez; pastor and educator the Rev. Gloria Elaine White-Hammond, M.D.; and author Hanya Yanagihara ’95.

This year’s celebrations will honor much-loved Smith traditions, while also following important public health guidelines.

A full, up-to-date Commencement schedule is available online. Here are some highlights:

Saturday, May 29

1 p.m.
Ivy Day
In-person for graduating seniors only; online for others at Smith College’s Facebook page

Celebrated at Commencement since 1879, this year’s event will incorporate cherished elements while following physically distanced guidelines. Details will be posted to the Commencement website as more information becomes available.

3–4:15 p.m.
Virtual Honorary Degree Panel
Virtual event, online at Smith College’s Facebook page

Moderated by President Kathleen McCartney. A discussion with Joy Harjo, Commencement speaker and U.S. poet laureate; Gwen Agna, former principal of the Jackson Street School; Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation; Joanne Campbell, affordable housing activist; Christiana Figueres, diplomat and climate change leader; Cristina Jiménez, co-founder of United We Dream; The Rev. Gloria Elaine White-Hammond, M.D., founder and executive director of My Sister’s Keeper; and Hanya Yanagihara ’95, novelist and editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

8:30 p.m.
Virtual/Global Illumination
In-person for seniors only; online for others

In a tradition dating back to 1888, the campus paths are lit by colorful hanging lanterns. In a show of solidarity and strength, members of the Smith community from around the world post online photos of their own candle-lighting celebrations, with locations cited on an interactive map. More information to come.

Sunday, May 30

Commencement Day
Campus will be closed to the public from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; only graduating students will be allowed on campus.

10 a.m.
Commencement Ceremony

In-person for graduating students only. Others can view the livestream on Smith’s Facebook page.

In an April 2 letter to the college community, President Kathleen McCartney congratulated members of the class of 2021 for having “persevered through a challenging time—particularly your final three semesters—with resilience and adaptability.”

“I am committed to fully honoring your accomplishments, as safely as possible,” McCartney said. “Together, we will make this event a celebration worthy of all that you have achieved.”