Commencement speaker Ruth Hamilton'07 acknowledged students' place on a cusp as they waited to graduate in mid-May. She described it 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—demanded by a powerful thunderstorm.
Hamilton is a young social justice superstar, 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 said it went from something 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 the situation 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. Coming from 31 states and 14 countries, 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 the remarkable qualities of his classmates, and the time he saw a breathtaking Wisconsin snowfall in 2015 – the first snow he had ever seen.
Two students received special awards at Commencement. Mauricio Sosa Cárdenas, from Waukegan, Ill., received the Martha Peterson Prize. Named for Beloit's seventh college president, the prize was established by the class of 1981 to recognize a student best exemplifing the college's liberal arts traditions through academics and as an active contributor to the campus community. Sosa Cárdenas graduated with honors with a major in psychology and a minor in Spanish. He had volunteered extensively in the community as an interpreter for Spanish-speakers seeking health care.
Matthew Miller, a business economics major and multi-sport athlete from Florence, Colo., received the Warren Miller Blue Skies Award for fostering good cheer and a good-humored perspective during his years on campus. Since 1982, Beloit has given the award to a student who brightens the campus community. The award's namesake is a 1960 alumnus and a cartoonist whose work featured prominently in The New Yorker magazine for decades.