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


Commencement at Smith

May 23, 2007

We’ve just celebrated the 129th Commencement at Smith with Gloria Steinem, Class of 1956, as the guest speaker.  You can read the text of her speech at: http://www.smith.edu/collegerelations/com2007.php.  The first commencement where a woman was the guest speaker occurred in 1919, at the 40th commencement celebration of Smith!  Virginia Crocheron Guildersleeve was the Dean of Barnard College.  Her speech titled, “Ordeal by Fire” discussed women’s colleges and the challenges and opportunities the First World War brought to them. 

Original copies of Commencement speeches are available in the Class Records in the College Archives.  Published versions are also available in issues of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly magazine.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!

A complete list of Smith College Commencement speakers can be found at: http://www.smith.edu/collegerelations/speakers.php