Campus was in a uproar of enthusiasm and excitement when it was announced that Hillary Clinton would be speaking to the Class of 2017 for their Commencement on May 26. Although some people had their reservations, most seniors at Wellesley were thrilled that a notable alumna would be addressing them. However, as Facebook posts went viral and the news started spreading, a sense of frustration and dread started overtaking the excitement. It became increasingly clear that Wellesley alumnae were planning to travel across the country in order to attend commencement and watch Clinton speak. Some alumnae were expecting a turnout for Commencement the size of election night, where over 2,000 alumnae flocked to their former campus in order to support Clinton as she ran for office. The College Alumnae Association helped facilitate this event by holding an event in the Field House complete with photo booths, memorabilia and decorations. However, the high attendance proved to be challenging for the administration and stressful for the students. Issues like dorm security, parking and managing almost double the college population were significant hurdles. Though the alumae support for Clinton is commendable, Commencement is not a post-election rally but a celebration of the Class of 2017 and their families. While surviving four years of Wellesley is demanding and our Commencement should not be.
Commencement rewards the graduating class for their effort and time they have dedicated into their time at Wellesley and the relationships they have made while they were there. It is also a time for families to see the efforts of their loved ones celebrated. Commencement is already a high traffic day for the college that requires a lot of management and infrastructure. Increased alumnae participation would be an additional weight for the College and additional stress on the seniors and their families who are already tasked with move-out on that date.
In addition, if a large number of alumnae flock to campus, it may limit the amount of tickets or hotel rooms available to the families of seniors. Commencement is very rarely ticketed and limiting the number of family members invited to Commencement is incredibly rude to the class of 2017. The family members of the seniors would have travelled and been excited for the day regardless of who the speaker was. It would be incredibly inappropriate to restrict the ticket number for the families of graduating seniors in order to provide tickets for alumnae who are more interested in Clinton. Many of us come from large families which include grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles and friends who have been with us every step of the way. These are people who have listened to us, helped us balance our work,helpedpayourtuitionandgivenus a home away from Wellesley. Many of us are the first students in our families to go to college, or have relatives flying in from across the world for this occasion. Having to tell those people they cannot attend due to limited ticketing would be heartbreaking on a day that is supposed to be victorious. Moreover, these are people would have made to effort to come to the event regardless of whoever was speaking. Limiting seating and increasing price barriers that affect this group of people misses point of the event.
One could argue that the alumnae wish to celebrate and support the class of 2017. However, it is clear from the turn out from previous years that the enthusiasm is more for Clinton than it is for the Class of 2017. Other notable speakers have included Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie, Nora Ephron, Valerie Jarrett and Sue Wagner. These speakers were all inspiring and notable to the world and yet did not receive the same attention from alumnae. However, if you ask the students who graduated that year if their commencement was special, I am sure they will agree that the significance of the event would have been great regardless of the speaker.
It is also troubling to me that some alumnae are threatening to withhold donations based on the school’s inability to throw a proper event in the name of Clinton. Donations to Wellesley should be made out of an affection for the school and a desire to see it grow and prosper. They should not be a weapon to be used in order to attend an event. It is not fair to withhold donations because the College is unable to provide an event specifically for Alumna especially in conjunction with an event about the Class of 2017.
This is not to say that the event should not be celebrated with the pomp and circumstance that it deserves. I am all for throwing watch parties in local communities in order to celebrate Clinton. I am incredibly touched by the enthusiasm Wellesley alums continue to have for the school and for supporting their fellow alums. I am thrilled that when I cross the stage on May 26th, I will be joining a group of passionate women who are the most enthusiastic and determined people I have met. In that vein, I urge the alumae to be thoughtful in their desire to celebrate Clinton and remember that Commencement is about the graduating Seniors.