A Walk Down Memory Lane: Past Smith Commencement Speakers


Photo courtesy: huffpost.com Veronica Brown '17

Assistant News Editor 

Since the first graduating class in 1879, Smith College has hosted a variety of distinguished guests as commencement speakers.

Ruth J. Simmons will deliver the 2014 commencement address. Simmons was the 9th president of Smith College and the 18th president of Brown University. She was the first African American to serve as president of any Ivy League institution.

Simmons joins an esteemed list of recent commencement speakers. Last year’s address was delivered by Ariana Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. In her speech, Huffington encouraged the graduates to literally “sleep your way to the top” by getting a good night’s rest. Her speech inspired her most recent book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.

From May 15th to 18th, Smith will be hosting the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth reunions. These graduating classes had a variety of admirable women and men as commencement speakers.

The 2004 commencement speaker was Judy Woodruff, a journalist who has since become the co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. The commencement speaker for the class of 1994 was Jane Lakes Harman, a U.S. Representative from California and a member of the Smith College class of 1966. Harman is currently the President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The writer Elizabeth Hardwick gave the 1984 commencement address. Hardwick passed away in 2007 at the age of 91. The 1974 commencement speaker was Patricia Roberts Harris, who was the first African American woman to serve in the Cabinet of the United States. She was appointed as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and later the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. The 1964 commencement speaker was Dean Rusk, who was the Secretary of State under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

From May 22 to May 25, Smith will host the remaining reunions from 5th to 75th, in addition to the 60th, 70th and 80th year reunions. These classes hosted a variety of commencement speakers, including politicians, actresses and esteemed alumnae of the college.

Tammy Baldwin, then U.S. Representative and now U.S. Senator, delivered the 2009 commencement address. Baldwin is the first openly gay United States Senator. She graduated from Smith in 1984, and will be attending her reunion event this year.

The 1999 commencement speaker was the Tony and Emmy Award winning actress Jane Alexander. John Kenneth Galbraith gave the 1989 commencement address. Before his death in 2006, Gailbraith was an economist, diplomat and bestselling author.

Award-winning feminist poet Adrienne Rich gave the 1979 address. Tom Wicker, journalist for The New York Times, delivered the 1969 commencement address. New Zealand Politician Sir Leslie Munro delivered the 1959 address. Television personality and journalist Alistair Cooke was the commencement speaker for the class of 1954.

Robert F. Bradford, who was then the Governor of Massachusetts, gave the 1949 commencement speech. Journalist and author Max Lerner delivered the 1944 address. Lerner’s most famous book was America as a Civilization: Life and Thought in the United States Today.

William Allan Neilson delivered the 1939 commencement address in his final year as president of Smith College. In his time at Smith, Neilson purchased many of Smith’s houses and oversaw the building of the Quadrangle and many other campus buildings.

Smith’s Board of Trustees selects each year’s commencement speaker based on recommendations from the graduating class. This year’s commencement will be Sunday, May 18 at 10 a.m.