Graduation, Kirkland Style
Of course, Kirkland seniors had a graduation ceremony. But it wasn’t quite typical. It was more of a maypole dance, birthday party, poetry slam, and traveling circus all rolled into one. It was so different, in fact, that LIFE Magazine covered it in its June 9, 1972 issue.
Like the college herself, Kirkland’s commencement was a mixture of traditional and unconventional, formal and informal. All in all, it was a joyful celebration enjoyed by the administration, faculty, and students and their families.
Carrying fresh bunches of daisies, graduating seniors marched behind our student flag bearers and a student bagpiper. We students wore our own colorful clothes—everything from jeans or shorts to flowery spring dresses.
Cheered on by other students, friends, and family, an informal procession of graduates wound around Kirkland’s campus to a large white tent pitched in the field beyond the dorms.
Our faculty and administration, decked out in their academic regalia, led the way. The ceremony itself took place inside the tent, which was filled with green and white balloons, streamers, students, and well-wishers. (In my case, my parents, sister, wire-haired terrier Scuffles, Florida grandparents, and Virginia aunt and cousin attended.)
Yes, we did have commencement speakers like other colleges do—but we also had an open mike. If a graduate chose to, she could speak to the assembled friends, faculty, and family.
President Sam Babbitt handed each of us our unique and priceless diplomas. And that was it!
At the college’s very last graduation, Sam said:
Yet what is good about Kirkland, what is lasting, is quite a separate thing from these buildings in which they have had their start, and it has a life quite independent of this place, beautiful as the place has been in which to nourish us. I want to talk about that, because it is those intangibles which all of us will take from Kirkland as we leave, and as we go, there, finally, will “Kirkland” also go . . . .
Kirkland has been a fine cause. And my message to you all—those who graduate today, and those who have been a part of it in any way—is that those things for which it has stood will continue to be a fine cause in which all of us may continue to serve.
Bagpipers and balloons.
What do you recall about your graduation?
How did you feel?
What did you say at open mike?
Click on this link for more graduation photos:
Did You Know?
At the first post-merger graduation in 1979, displaced Kirkland (now deemed Hamilton) graduates conducted a silent protest. Many women placed a green Granny Smith apple beside the speaker’s podium. This powerful gesture has been carried on ever since. To keep the memory of Kirkland alive, Hamilton’s president is given a green apple from each graduate during commencement. Thirty years after the initial protest, Hamilton’s President Joan Hinde Stewart received 492 apples at graduation in May 2009.
by Jo Pitkin K’78
Photos supplied by Katherine Collett, Hamilton College Archivist