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Vassar’s 153rd Commencement

More than 1,000 well-wishers flocked to Vassar’s campus on May 28 for the 153rd Commencement ceremony. Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, delivered the Commencement address to the graduating class, which included the first group of Posse veterans brought to Vassar through a program with the foundation.

Bial encouraged the 616 graduates to think about themselves as part of a collective and to stand up and work together to create a more just and equitable society. “We have made progress. We have come a long way. But, a long way is not enough,” she said.

Noting the Memorial Day weekend, she made a point to congratulate the Posse veteran graduates, thanking them for their military service and for their inspiring work at Vassar. “We thank you … for so beautifully paving the way for other U.S. veterans to contribute to, and benefit from, outstanding institutions of higher education, like Vassar. Your success makes it possible for theirs,” she said.

Other featured speakers included Interim President Jonathan Chenette; William Plapinger ’74, P’10, Chair of the Board of Trustees; Senior Class President Aleena Zara Malik ’17; and Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC) President Milbrey “Missie” Rennie Taylor ’68.

Lucy Olivia Balcezak ’17 and Karen Ann Crook ’17, Senior Class Gift co-chairs, announced the creation of the Class of 2017 Scholarship Fund, seeded with a gift of $4,552 raised by classmates. “The donation marks the beginning of the class of 2017’s lifelong commitment to ensure that Vassar continues to grow and evolve with the next generation,” Balcezak said.

During the ceremony, Taylor assured the graduates that the alumnae/i association, a global network 39,000 members strong, would be there for them throughout their lifetimes. After the degrees were conferred, AAVC welcomed graduates into the fold, offering them specially designed VC17 caps that read “AAVC: Vassar for a Lifetime.” Then graduates made their way to a reception near the President’s House, where AAVC welcomed them with an arch of maroon and gray balloons and congratulatory banners.

The day before Commencement, several affinity groups celebrated their graduates. At the Council of Black Seniors’ 27th annual Baccalaureate Service, guest speaker Crissle West, a media personality, comedienne, and writer, offered graduating seniors advice—with humorous anecdotes on navigating their professional and personal lives post-graduation.

“Understand that your next steps into adulthood begin now, and that you cannot get to the rewards life has in store for you without walking the journey. When I look back over the past decade of my life, I see a lot of struggle and heartache and days that I had to collect coins from the bottom of my glove compartment to scrape up enough money to find dinner. And now that I’m on the other side of that mountain, I see how every last one of those days I spent hurting and miserable led me to being right here,” she said.

Awards presented at the Baccalaureate Service included the Class of 1991 Alumnae/i Award, given to Tracy Poole ’82, who discussed the importance of giving back to Vassar, particularly through mentoring current students and recent graduates. Karen Getter, Academic Support and Learning Resources Specialist, received the J. Task Award, in honor of her service to the college and its students.

Seniors Kayla Fisher, Lily Harford, Yasani Spencer, Gabe Kawugule, and Emma Osagie

The African American Alumnae/i of Vassar College (AAAVC) Kente Cloth Ceremony featured a performance by the musical group Ujima and speeches by Ken Miles ’07 and Dr. Claudia Thomas ’71. Thomas talked about the positive changes brought to Vassar by members of AAAVC, including the creation of the Africana Studies Program, and encouraged graduates to challenge the status quo.

The Asian Pacific Alumnae/i of Vassar College 2017 Graduation Celebration, led by Lisa Flores ’82, included remarks by Chenette and Taylor. Seniors were presented with red satin stoles to wear at Commencement, breaking from the tradition of flower leis—symbolism that was not considered broad enough to encompass the various cultures that make up those represented. Flores noted the unique experiences of Asian Pacific students and praised the students who, “in true Vassar fashion,” questioned the use of leis in the ceremony and opted instead for the satin stoles.

Watch the full video, read the speeches, and see more photos.