The 208th Commencement was unlike any other in Hamilton’s history. Due to COVID-19, the College held a virtual ceremony celebrating the 497 members of the Class of 2020 and honoring many of the annual traditions on Sunday, May 24. 

Speakers at the virtual event included President David Wippman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Stephen Sadove ’73, P’07,’10,’13, Dean of Faculty Suzanne Keen, and class speaker Ramisa Tasnim, a government major from Hudson, N.Y. Keen announced the Class of 2020 valedictorian Caroline Sullivan, a biochemistry major from Hopkinton, Mass., and salutatorian Sarah Salimi, a sociology major from Hartsdale, N.Y.

Also receiving recognition was Kena Gilmour, a government major from New Paltz, N.Y., who received the James Soper Merrill Prize. It is awarded to that member of the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has best typified the highest ideals of the College.” Selected by the faculty, the recipient is presented with a gold watch.

In keeping with tradition, the Bagpipes of the Mohawk Valley Frasers offered a prelude and postlude to the ceremony, and seniors from the College Choir sang Carissima, Hamilton’s alma mater.

2020 Commencement Facts

Valedictorian: Caroline Sullivan, biochemistry major
Salutatorian: Sarah Salimi, sociology major
James Soper Merrill Prize: Kena Gilmour, government major
Class speaker:  Ramisa Tasnim, government major

In his remarks, President Wippman said, “For over two centuries, the College has flourished and grown, finding its way past wars and conflicts, depressions and recessions, epidemics and pandemics. In every generation there have been defining moments. For my generation, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and 9/11 helped shape our view of the world and our place in it.

“We may not get to choose our defining moments, but we do get to choose how we respond. Adversity brings with it disappointment, anxiety, and loss. But it also brings opportunity, to learn, to grow, to find one’s own inner strength. We don’t get to choose these defining moments. They choose us.

“The world has changed, in ways we never imagined,” Wippman said. “Now more than ever the world needs your strength, your determination, your talent, and your resiliency – to solve the problems we face, to lead the change we require, and to navigate an uncertain future with grit and determination — characteristics that I believe will come to define your class and your generation.

“I’d like to think your Hamilton education has prepared you for this,” Wippman said. “Your final semester at Hamilton represented an unanticipated test, one large additional hurdle to overcome. Our gathering this morning provides evidence that you have passed that test and you have done so with honors. The last couple of months have not been easy, I know, but you have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to adapt, an ability you may not have known you had.

President Wippman urged the class to “learn from that experience, draw strength from it, and use it to help you overcome the obstacles you will surely encounter in the future.”

Kena Gilmour, the Soper Merrill Prize winner, was called “one of the most outstanding people I have met in my life” by men’s basketball coach Adam Stockwell, one of Gilmour’s many nominators. “In my nearly 25 years of coaching at the college level, I have never met a student-athlete who epitomizes the Division III scholar-athlete vision better than Kena Gilmour,” Stockwell wrote.

Professor of Women’s Studies Vivyan Adair said Gilmour “is talented, honest, ethical and one of the kindest, most empathetic and capable students I have met in teaching at Hamilton, in my almost 25 years.  … He leads and lives with responsibility, love and kindness as his North Star.”

In her nomination, Assistant Professor of Government Kira Jumet wrote: “Kena is a motivated, ambitious, and dedicated student whose character is appreciated by those whoknow him. Kena not only is an example of academic excellence but is also a role model in the community for the type of positive change one person can make and the importance of using one’s position to support and uplift others. He inspires both students and professors on our campus.”

In addition to success on the basketball court, Gilmour was a library circulation assistant, a researcher for the Africana Studies Department, and a resident advisor. He served as president of the Brothers Organization, chaired the governing board of Men of Hamilton Against Sexual Assault, helped develop and run Fun Fridays for Clinton Elementary children, and was a member of the Queer Student Union and the Black and Latinx Student Union. 

Among his many honors in basketball, Gilmour was named NESCAC Player of the Year, first-team All-American, and this year received the prestigious Jostens Trophy, a national award that recognizes basketball ability, academic prowess, and community service.

Ramisa Tasnim, who was chosen by seniors to address their class, looked back to the Class of 2020’s first-year orientation and said she initially doubted how “five days together would cause such a difference to my college career.” However, she continued, “That is the beauty of uncertainty. And that is the result of a willingness to try new and unfamiliar things. And, most importantly, that is what Hamilton provided us. A chance. An opportunity. An experience.

“Some of us have traveled across the world, some of us across the country. Some of us only live an hour away. Some of us come from large families. Some of us were raised in a single-parent household. For all of us, coming to college in Clinton, N.Y., meant not just receiving a stellar education but also finding connections,” Tasnim said.

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