CARmencement 2021

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Commencement, from a distance

With the sounds of honking, cheering, and Indigenous drumming wafting across campus, the Mills College Class of 2021 celebrated an entirely new kind of Commencement (or CARmencement?) on Saturday, May 15.

Following a virtual ceremony in the morning—the first in the College’s history—that celebrated 377 undergraduate and graduate students, Richards Gate opened for the first time in more than a year to those beyond campus residents and essential staff. Members of the Class of 2021 could pack as many family and friends into one car as they liked, and after everyone inside completed COVID paperwork, they toured campus on a set route decorated with signs and cheering faculty, staff, and alumnae.

On the heels of the CDC announcement just days before that fully vaccinated individuals didn’t need masks, the previously set rule that only the graduate could leave the vehicle was relaxed, allowing for small gatherings and photos at campus hotspots. Socially distanced lines quickly grew on the Meadow and at Mills Hall to snap pictures.

In addition to the departing students, the day was also an emotional one for Provost Chinyere Oparah, who left the College at the end of the academic year for the University of San Francisco. Before joining up with President Elizabeth L. Hillman to pose for photos with new alumnae/i, she delivered the “Charge to Graduates” at the conclusion of the virtual ceremony, an honor usually reserved for the president.

“The success we celebrate today is not just that you completed all your coursework and earned your Mills degree—though that is a huge accomplishment—we are also celebrating your resiliency, your strength, and your ability to overcome adversity,” she said. “In the last year, you did lab work wearing PPE, you conducted sheltered-in-place research, and you navigated Zoom classes—with and without bad hair days. You, the Class of 2021, have proved to be unstoppable.”

The virtual ceremony also included remarks from student speaker Jessica Greely ’21 as well as Alicia Garza, co-creator of Black Lives Matter, who was initially scheduled to deliver the
Commencement address in 2020.