This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Chip Reid '77 delivers the address at Vassar's 147th commencement. All photos courtesy Vassar College / John Abbott.

The 147th Commencement Ceremony

Cool, cloudy weather did little to dampen the spirits of 660 undergraduates, one graduate student, and some 3,000 family members and friends on Sunday, May 22, as they gathered at the Outdoor Amphitheater overlooking Sunset Lake for Vassar’s 147th commencement ceremony. Two hundred fifty departmental honors were awarded, 132 graduates were awarded general honors, 61 were elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and 28 were elected to Sigma Xi. (Eight students were elected to both societies.)

As expected, the occasion of the college’s Sesquicentennial framed much of the day. President Catharine Hill shared that just four students graduated in Vassar’s first commencement in 1867, two years after the first women arrived on campus. She noted that the format of commencement had changed many times over the years, but that at least one thing had remained constant: the conferral of degrees.

Unusual this year was the conferral of a master’s degree, which hasn’t happened at Vassar since 1997, when two master’s of science degrees were awarded, one each in biology and chemistry. This time, it was a M.S. in biology, awarded to Theodora Budnik, a 65-year-old doctor in Poughkeepsie. A surgeon at St. Francis Hospital, she holds a B.A. from Harvard and an M.D. from UCLA, from which she graduated 37 years ago. Budnik started taking biology classes at Vassar in 2002 as a way to get caught up with advances in the sciences since she’d gone to school four decades prior. With professor David Jemiolo as an advocate, she eventually decided to pursue a master’s degree, which at last came to fruition, earned one or two courses at a time, over the span of nearly nine years. (Budnik’s aunt, Elizabeth Stillman Williams ’27, was a college trustee, and her sister, Elizabeth Stillman Shafer ’66, is also a Vassar graduate, though the two sisters ultimately earned their Vassar degrees 45 years apart!)

After the presentation of the class gift, senior class president Maureen “Moe” Byrne recalled the various defining moments when each graduate’s “Vassar experience” truly began. She concluded by reflecting that a Vassar education is not about what you learn, but rather about what the college teaches about how to learn, a skill that carries forward for a lifetime.

Building on Matthew Vassar’s motto of “progress,” Bill Plapinger ’74, chair of Vassar’s Board of Trustees, exhorted graduates to do something good in the world. How? NBC correspondent Chip Reid ’77, the first alumnus to give the commencement address, answered that question.

A Vassar education is “not job training – it’s preparation for life,” he said, mirroring the sentiments of Moe Byrne. He offered graduates five points of advice for navigating that life: 1) Find your passion or dream. 2) Don’t be afraid to take a (big) risk. 3) Fight for what you believe in. 4) Don’t take “no” for an answer. 5) If you fall off the horse, and you will, get back on.

Now, 661 newly minted Vassar graduates take those words of wisdom—and their esteemed liberal arts Vassar education—and embrace the world beyond as the newest members of the college’s alumnae/i family. –Peter Bronski


The Processional

Daisy Chain

The Daisy Chain

Conferral of Degrees

President Catharine Hill during the Conferral of Degrees

Graduates 1

The graduates with family and friends in the Outdoor Amphitheater

Graduates 2

Four of the 661

V is for Vassar

V is for Vassar


Technology on display in the 21st century version of Commencement

Theodora Budnik

Theodora Budnik '11 (center), with her husband Roy (left) and professor David Jemiolo, was awarded a master's degree during the ceremonies

June 2011

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