Beloit’s 2019 Commencement speaker Ruth Hamilton’07, acknowledged students’ place on a cusp as they waited to graduate in mid-May. She described the moment as “right on the verge of the next big thing in your life.” And for most, she said, it was probably different from the other next big things because “this time there isn’t a script or a well-worn path that you’re expected to take the way there was in high school and then college.”
Senior class officers selected Hamilton to address the 330 members of their class and the large group of family and friends assembled to celebrate them in the Sports Center, the college’s rain location.
Hamilton is a senior trial attorney in the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender nonprofit serving low-income Bronx residents in criminal, civil, child welfare, and immigration cases. She is the former legal director of Still She Rises, a one-of-a-kind nonprofit dedicated to representing mothers in the Oklahoma criminal justice system, the state with the highest incarceration rate for women with children.
Hamilton, whose law degree is from Harvard, received an honorary doctorate from Beloit at the ceremony. Her message to students was about privilege. She talked about recognizing the increasing weight of her own privilege as she worked as a public defender and how it changed from just operating in the background to feeling like a debt that she owed.
“We live in a country in which black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans,” she said. “Where, while studies show that children of all races and ethnicities are equally likely to be abused or neglected, black children in particular are far more likely to be removed from their parents and placed in foster care than white children.”
She admitted that this situation and other inequities can seem overwhelming. “But you are uniquely equipped to do something about it,” she told graduates. “Every one of you sitting here has something incredible to offer. There’s a reason Beloit believed in you.”
Indeed, the class of 2019 had already chalked up some inspiring accomplishments. They include a Fulbright Student Scholar headed to Iceland, an alternate Fulbright Scholar potentially going to Azerbaijan, eight students selected for competitive Weissberg Human Rights Fellowships, 13 whose academic accomplishments earned them membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and remarkable individuals like Hernan Santacruz’19 of Quito, Ecuador, who gave Beloit’s student address.
The business economics major graduated with honors and with minors in classical civilization and philosophy. His remarks reflected on his best Beloit memories, including when he witnessed his first snowfall and the times he recognized the outstanding qualities of his classmates. He joined Beloit’s Admissions staff as a counselor for prospective international students after graduation.
Our Favorite Awards
Each year, Beloit awards two honors during Commencement that recognize the character of graduates in a way few other honors do. One is the Martha Peterson Prize.
The class of 1981 established this prize, which is named for Beloit’s seventh college president and recognizes a student who exemplifies the college’s liberal arts traditions through academics and as an active contributor to the campus community. Mauricio Sosa Cárdenas’19 from Waukegan, Ill., received the Peterson Prize in 2019. The psychology major and Spanish minor graduated with honors, while also having made a major difference outside the classroom. Among other things, he volunteered extensively in the community as an interpreter for Spanish-speakers seeking health care and worked to study and improve those services. After graduation, he left for Denver, Colo., where he’s volunteering at a shelter with support from a Weissberg Fellowship, helping new immigrants adjust to U.S. culture as they leave detention centers.
Another special—and quite possibly the quirkiest prize Beloit hands out at Commencement—is the Warren Miller Blue Skies Award, which recognizes a student for improving the quality of life on campus. A worthy candidate is one “who fosters good cheer and a good-humored perspective during his or her years on campus.” The late Dave Mason’49, former assistant to President Peterson, once told Beloit College Magazine that the prize was established because “there ought to be something for students who make people feel good.”
Matthew Miller, a business economics major, student leader, and multi-sport athlete from Florence, Colo., is one such person. He received the Warren Miller Blue Skies Award in May, wearing an infectious smile throughout most of the two-hour-plus ceremony. He is considering a future career in higher education, working with student life programs.
Since 1982, Beloit has given the award to a student who brightens the campus community. The prize’s namesake, Warren Miller’60, is a cartoonist whose work featured prominently in The New Yorker magazine for decades. Each recipient receives a framed cartoon by the artist.