Molly McGuire ’18
President Kathleen McCartney hosted a Fireside Chat on April 4 to discuss Commencement traditions at Smith. Students and faculty braved the unseasonable winter weather in order to participate in a dialogue on the nomination and selection of honorary degree recipients and Commencement speakers.
The meeting opened with McCartney summarizing who may be eligible to receive an honorary degree at Smith. “The college will consider women who are exemplars of excellence in a wide range of fields, both academic and non-academic,” said McCartney.
McCartney was sure to mention that, “any member of the Smith community may nominate [an honorary degree recipient]. This includes students, faculty, staff, alumnae, trustees.” Nominations are submitted through an online form on the Smith website.
The conversation moved on to the role of the Committee on Honorary Degrees, which reviews all nominations and is made up of three students and three faculty members. “This is a great committee to be on because it’s really fun … there are lots of really interesting names and you get to learn a lot about new people,” said Alice Hearst, a government professor and a faculty member of the committee.
“It’s interesting to have student involvement and to make the nominating process more transparent,” Bree Currier ’16, the senior class president and a student member of the committee, added.
After the Committee on Honorary Degrees makes recommendations for nominees to the Board of Trustees, McCartney will invite certain honorands from a list of approved nominees. “At any given moment in time we have lots of folks who have been approved for an honorary degree, like, more than a hundred,” said McCartney.
McCartney went on to explain their selection process by stating that they would like to “have a diverse pool in every way.” This means having a class of honorary degree recipients that come from a variety of backgrounds, career paths and identities.
“Since last April, we [have] had thirty-three student nominations, and we accept nominations on a rolling basis,” said McCartney. She then went on to explain the various ways in which the Committee on Honorary Degrees uses outreach in order to encourage students to submit nominations. These include running ads in The Sophian and sending mass emails to the junior class.
During the fireside chat, the issue of Abby Wambach, a famous soccer player who is set to receive an honorary degree from the college this year, was discussed. Wambach recently was arrested for a DUI, and many members of the Smith community are feeling conflicted as to whether or not she should be awarded with an honorary degree.
McCartney said that she would be sure to listen to what students think about this issue. “This was her first offense, and we understand that she is speaking at Georgetown next week, and that she plans to address this,” said McCartney. Wambach spoke at Georgetown on April 10.
Other honorary degree recipients include: Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House and Commencement speaker for this year, Alison Bechdel, cartoonist and memoirist, Roslyn Brock, the chair of the NAACP board of directors, Ruchira Gupta, a leader in the international fight against sex trafficking and Stephanie D. Wilson, a NASA astronaut.