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Dartmouth seniors shed masks to celebrate graduation

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    Trevor Ballantyne, left, of Hopkinton, Mass., and Michael Carty, of Rye, N.Y., lie on the ground inside Leverone Field House as they try to cool off during Dartmouth College's commencement ceremony held at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Sunday, June 13, 2021."I haven't slept in 48 hours," Ballantyne said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Graduates throw their caps into the air during the closing of Dartmouth College's commencement ceremony held at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News/Report for America — Alex Driehaus

  • Dartmouth College President Philip J. Hanlon addresses the Class of 2021 during Dartmouth College's commencement ceremony held at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/13/2021 8:30:12 PM
Modified: 6/13/2021 8:30:14 PM

HANOVER — Thousands of Dartmouth College students and their families braved the hot sun above Memorial Field during a four-hour graduation ceremony on Sunday in which the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic was also much in evidence.

“This was a really hard speech for me to write because no words can capture the loss that we experienced this past year,” valedictorian Amanda Chen said in a sobering address.

This year’s commencement marked the end of a particularly difficult year for the college, and with more challenges still to come. Three first-year Dartmouth students died unexpectedly this year, at least two by suicide, and a fourth undergraduate also died of medical causes.

And students chafed under the social distancing rules and rigid enforcement by the college as it sought to combat the spread of the virus, but which students said contributed to their isolation.

“In making change, the results are not consistent but the efforts have to be,” Chen said of her experience founding and leading the Dartmouth Mental Health Student Union.

Chen found encouragement that her class are “change makers,” but also said, “I found that in this world there are far too many problems and far too few solutions.”

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon acknowledged some of the difficulties the seniors had lived through over the past four years, saying, “Your class has faced a cauldron of tumult and tragedy unlike any other,” referencing the #MeToo movement, racial injustice, divisive politics and a world turned upside down by a global pandemic.

In a survey of graduating seniors conducted by The Dartmouth, the student newspaper, Hanlon saw his net approval drop by nearly 51 percentage points between 2020 and 2021, with 83% of the Class of 2021 saying that they felt unfavorably towards the Dartmouth administration in general.

Temperatures on Sunday rose into the 80s and were amplified by the artificial turf of the football stadium, where graduation was held this year — rather than the Dartmouth Green — for social distancing purposes.

Lines of students streamed in and out of air-conditioned Leverone Field House throughout the ceremony, stripping off their black robes and laid down on the floor for a brief respite indoors before returning to the proceedings.

And in a sign that they had moved on in at least one fashion already, a majority of the graduates shed their masks throughout the course of the event, though Dartmouth officials earlier this month had said masks would still be required because of the number of people at the ceremony.

About 2,000 friends and family members were on hand along with most of the graduates.

In total, Dartmouth said 2,005 students, including those in graduate programs, were getting degrees this weekend.

Parents also are pressing for changes on campus this summer, when some classes will be held in person, but many remain online. In the commencement issue of The Dartmouth, a group of parents purchased a full page ad that read “Summer 2021: Teach vaccinated students in person. Open campus now. Use CDC guidelines. Restore the human connection.”

In an interview, graduating senior Elwyn Zhang said Dartmouth should be doing better by its students.

“Dartmouth has a lot of problems. There are a lot of points where students feel like they’re not getting heard, especially on things like mental health leave,” Zhang said.

Still, members of the graduating class said that they were glad to be able to celebrate in person.

“I didn’t think this was going to happen. I thought it was for sure going to be virtual,” Willem Klein Wassink told a reporter.

“This is definitely surreal. It’s the first time that I’m seeing some of these people all year,” added another senior, Prathna Kumar.

In her commencement address, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1981, commiserated with students over the “loss of members of the Dartmouth family” and also the physical and emotional isolation that the graduates had experienced.

“But you have made it to this moment,” said Gordon-Reed, who called this “a testament to the spirit” of Dartmouth.

And she also called on a college tradition, quoting from the Dartmouth Alma Mater.

“Now is the time to ‘greet the world from the hills with a hail,’ ” said Gordon-Reed. “A world that badly needs your spirit and enthusiasm is waiting for you.”

Frances Mize can be reached at fmize@vnews.com.

Dartmouth Class of 2021 undergraduates from the Upper Valley:

Kate Stanger Budney, Hanover; Charles Chen, Hanover; Nadia Lake Clement, East Thetford; Zea Lamperti Eanet, Norwich; Adam Peter Glueck, Hanover; Daniel Ali Hazlett, Norwich; Divya Kopalle, Hanover; Julia Elizabeth Krass, Norwich; Hannah Moorin Lang, Grantham; Marina Lynne Liot, Lebanon; Jessica Elizabeth Drinan Rosien, Etna; Joe Zhang, Hanover.




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