Skip to content

Graduation, Kirkland Style

May 13, 2011

Caps and gowns. Pomp and Circumstance. Commencement speeches. What comes to mind when you think about your college graduation?

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.

Procession, from 1978 Roots in the Glen yearbook

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.

From 1976 Roots in the Glen yearbook

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.

Faculty procession, Kirkland

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.

from Roots in the Glen, 1978 yearbook

President Sam Babbitt handed each of us our unique and priceless diplomas. And that was it!

Kirkland College Charter Class Commencement, 1972

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

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Connie Halporn permalink
    May 13, 2011 7:26 am

    Ah, graduation–1978 was so hot–I put a thermos of ice tea under my seat–

    More importantly I graduated in my Judogi, but as a bow to my mother, wore a long cotton skirt instead of the pants. At the open mike I said “Where else but Kirkland could I get a BA and my brown belt.”
    Most of it is a blur: tears of joy and sadness–but I was not leaving the Hill– the then head of Audio Visual, Tom Fiammi, had asked me to work for him at Hamilton as the Assistant Director of AV with 6 months to graduate. Having a job in hand made the Spring semester much easier.

  2. Penny Watras Dana permalink
    May 13, 2011 8:03 am

    Wonderful post! I remember attending both Kirkland and Hamilton graduations – they were so different! Ours in 1978, Kirkland’s last, was beastly hot: a few people fainted under the tent. Special K sang, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me” and someone did an interpretive dance during open mic.

    For the first time in my four Kirkland years, my last name was misspelled on my diploma! (Perhaps thanks to the H administration that was running things at the end.) I turned it in and Xed out my misspelled name and wrote it correctly on my freshly minted diploma.

    Oh, those were the days…

  3. Kirkie '74 permalink
    May 16, 2011 8:37 pm

    I recall wearing a big blue hat with a fake pink rose to graduation. I have no idea why–I had never worn such a hat before nor have I since. I guess it matched my blue dress but it was an odd thing for me to do. I liked being able to go to both graduations and seeing H’s and K’s finish our 4 years in Clinton.
    But, my most vivid graduation memory was of one of our college dogs wandering around the tent, between the wooden chairs. He decided to choose a chair belonging to a proper grandmotherly type and promptly lifted his leg and peed on it, and maybe her as well. She discreetly moved her leg and glared at the dog, but not a word was said. To this day I can see the crummy wooden chair, the tan dog, the stately woman and laugh at the fact that I remember that event as crucial to my graduation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: