Spreading the wealth of wisdom: Smith College to have 5 keynote speakers at 2024 graduation

Smith College will have five speakers for the upcoming commencement ceremony for the class of 2024. Clockwise from top left, the speakers are Ertharin Cousins, María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, Ruth Carter, Reeta Roy and Jill Lepore.

Smith College will have five speakers for the upcoming commencement ceremony for the class of 2024. Clockwise from top left, the speakers are Ertharin Cousins, María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, Ruth Carter, Reeta Roy and Jill Lepore. courtesy SMITH COLLEGE

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-26-2024 2:00 PM

Modified: 02-26-2024 4:17 PM


NORTHAMPTON — In a break from tradition, Smith College’s graduating class of 2024 will not have one keynote speaker during May’s commencement but five different honorees who will offer parting wisdom for students looking to begin the first steps of their career.

President Sarah Willie-LeBreton announced last Thursday as part of Smith’s Rally Day celebration that the school would award honorary degrees to five women accomplished in the fields of the arts, academia, journalism, social justice, philanthropy and business. Those five honorees will all offer individual remarks during the commencement day ceremony, scheduled to be held on May 19.

Three of the honorees have local roots in Massachusetts, including María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado, the first poet laureate of Springfield and teacher of creative nonfiction at Bay Path University in Longmeadow.

Another honoree is Ruth Carter, a native of Springfield who became the first Black person to win an Oscar for costume design, for working on the hit Marvel movie, “Black Panther.”

Jill Lepore, a journalist with the New Yorker magazine originally from the Massachusetts town of West Boylston, rounds out the local honorees.

The other two planned speakers are Ertharin Cousin, the former leader of the United Nations World Food Programme, and Reeta Roy, the president and CEO of the philanthropic Mastercard Foundation.

This year’s commencement ceremony is the first to be overseen by Willie-LeBreton, who was inaugurated as president of the college in October of 2023. She called the decision to have multiple speakers at this year’s commencement a “new twist on an old tradition.”

“I’m somebody who believes in multiple excellence,” Willie-LeBreton said during a Rally Day event at the college’s John M. Greene Hall. “We’ve asked each of them to share just one pearl of wisdom with you.”

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Past commencement speakers for the college have included former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and author Toni Morrison. Last year’s commencement speaker was Reshma Saujani, founder of the organization Girls Who Code.

Rally Day awards

The Rally Day event at Smith is a celebration for the school’s graduating senior class, who wear their graduation regalia for the first time as well as decorative hats custom-designed for the event. Medals were also handed out to four former Smith College alumnae in recognition for their career accomplishments and social impact.

The alumnae honored for this year’s Rally Day event were law professor Cheryl Brown Wattley (class of 1975), climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel (‘85), psychology professor and author Tomi-Ann Roberts (‘85) and human rights activist Sarah Belal (‘01).

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.