Speaking to the graduates gathered in person at Smith’s Indoor Track and Tennis Center for Smith’s 143rd start on Sunday, Harjo shared some of his poetry, touching on the themes of connection, gratitude and healing.
“Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the keepers who knew you before time, who will be there after time,” said Harjo, the first Native American to hold the title of National Poet Laureate. “Pay attention to your mind. Without training, he could run away and leave your heart for the huge human festival organized by the thieves of time.
In an address shared virtually with students, family members and alumni from around the world, Harjo also cited lines of poems by “inspired cartographers” Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde and Smith, graduates Sylvia Plath ’55 and Laurie Ann Guerrero AC ’08.
“These poems recognize the past, give us the foundation for recognizing the place we stand in, and include the mythical elements needed to open doors to new understanding beyond the present,” Harjo told the graduates. “The youngest poets continue the cartography, as you will do in the discipline you have adopted, for each discipline, each art, embodies a kind of cartography.
She praised the 2021 class for their resilience during a time of isolation and uncertainty. “You’ve found your way through the darkness until this moment of celebration,” Harjo said. “You will tell stories for years afterwards, about what it was like then.”
Noting that “we have a lot to do to remake our world,” Harjo called on graduates to “move forward in expressing their gratitude for the challenge of history, for all the struggle, the awesome beauty and power that this represents.
“As you step into your future together, know that the challenges will increase your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual muscles, for you personally, for your family, your class, your community, this global family, this land,” said Harjo. .
The college awarded 644 degrees on Sunday: 607 undergraduate degrees and 37 graduate degrees. Members of the 2021 class have come to Smith from 45 states and 32 countries.
Smith bestowed honorary degrees on Harjo and three other notable women:
Deborah Bial, President and Founder of The Posse Foundation
Joanne Campbell, affordable housing advocate and longtime CEO of Valley Community Development in Northampton
Audra McDonald, award-winning singer and actress
Honorary degrees were also awarded to five individuals who were to receive them in 2020: Northampton educator Gwen Agna; diplomat and climate change activist Christiana Figueres; immigrant advocate Cristina Jiménez; pastor and educator Reverend Gloria Elaine White-Hammond, MD; and author and publisher Hanya Yanagihara ’95.
Addressing her fellow graduates, Senior Class President Jane Yuanyuan Casey-Fleener ’21, acknowledged the challenges of the final year of the pandemic, but also the opportunity it provided “to connect with each other in a way we never thought possible ”.
In addition to their academic achievements, the 2021 class represents future doctors, lawyers, artists, historians – “people who are not afraid to take risks,” Casey-Fleener said, “people who will not take no for an answer. People who are shameless themselves. “
President Kathleen McCartney echoed these sentiments in her closing remarks to graduates, noting that “Smith will tell your story with pride for generations to come.
“This community will be yours for life,” said McCartney. “You will stand with graduates like you who will change the world, who will challenge the world, and who will take Smith with them in whatever they do.”
Sofia Perrotto 21, who graduated in sociology, summed up the feelings of many older people when she described being in person to begin with as “a privilege”.
“The pandemic made me realize this privilege that I didn’t know I had – to be physically close to people,” Perrotto said.
For Perrotto, Sunday’s ceremony brought home the feeling that “it’s real. I graduated from Smith College! ”