Diploma Circle at Smith College

May 15, 2009

Smith undergraduates end their academic career in Northampton with one final tradition: the Diploma Circle.

Diploma Circle at Smith College, 1984

Diploma Circle at Smith College, 1984

When they walk across the front stage and shake hands with the College president during the Commencement ceremony, graduating seniors are not given their own diplomas.  Instead, they receive a classmate’s.  In order to leave with the correct diploma, the entire senior class gathers in concentric circles on the lawn of King-Scales houses. On a signal, they start to pass the diplomas around until the right one finally lands in their hands.  Usually, this is met with a  joyful look similar to this image from 1944:

Student opening her diploma, 1944

Student opening her diploma, 1944

Evidence in the College Archives suggests that the Diploma Circle has been around since at least 1911, possibly earlier.  It has seen many names in that time, including: the “Magic Circle” and the “Great Ring.”  Whatever the name,  when the student steps out of the Circle with her diploma in hand, she knows she is officially a  Smith alumna!

*1984 Diploma Circle image by Gabriel Cooney


The staff of the College Archives wishes all of the Senior Class our best in your next journey, whatever it may be.  We hope you’ll return to the Archives anytime you’re on campus in the future!!

All the best from Nanci, Debbie, Leslie & Susan

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Goodbye, dear friend, Betty Horner

May 1, 2009
Elizabeth Horner, 1916-2009, Myra M. Sampson emerita professor of Biological Sciences

Elizabeth Horner, 1916-2009, Myra M. Sampson emerita professor of Biological Sciences

It is with much sadness we say goodbye to our dear friend Betty Horner, who died on April 29, 2009.  I met Betty during one of my first weeks at Smith.  She came over to introduce herself, and to drop off some items from her office.

Betty came to Smith College in 1938, as a young scientist from Douglass College in New Jersey, pursuing the master’s program while working in the laboratories at Burton Hall.  She later received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1948.  Betty always joked that she came to Smith ‘along with the 1938 Hurricane!’  One of her many contributions to the College Archives collection includes slides of that event (among other things).

Betty spent her entire academic career at Smith, sharing her absolute love of science and inquiry with many a generation of young women.  She persevered as a professional at a time when women were not always welcomed into the scientific academy.  She once told me of her mother’s dislike of her pursuing a career.  “But that didn’t stop me” she noted.  Nothing ever dampened her enthusiasm or spirit for her work.  Betty served on numerous department and College committees, and retired as an emerita professor in 1986.   However, she never really ‘retired’ from her work, and until her health intervened last year, could be seen working in her office at Sabin-Reed Hall.

In recent conversations she told me that “I want to come back in another life as an archivist.  You have such a wonderful job!”  A self-proclaimed pack-rat, the College Archives collection has been greatly enhanced by her contributions–in many forms, as have other units of the Library, including the Mortimer Rare Book Room, where Betty has donated wonderful 19th century volumes on natural history, according to Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books.

Because of her warmth and openess to explorations of all kinds, Betty has legions of friends from all over the world, and in many generations who will miss her greatly.  The College Archives will do its best to honor her work and life achievements by preserving her papers for the future.

Photograph by Dick Fish, 1986