Oberlin Celebrates Commencement 2024

On May 27, 629 members of the class of 2024 participated in commencement exercises, which featured a keynote address from Pulitzer Prize-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens ’00.

May 28, 2024

Communications Staff

Seated students applaud during commencement addresses.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

On Monday, May 27, 629 members of the Oberlin College and Conservatory class of 2024 participated in commencement exercises. The ceremony, which took place in sun-filled and windswept Tappan Square, featured a keynote address from Pulitzer Prize-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens ’00 and capped off a weekend of festivities that included family socials, conservatory recitals, and Illumination.

Students sported caps and gowns adorned with flowers, stuffed animals, and other colorful add-ons as they processed onto the square before cheering attendees and encouragements from faculty and staff. Following the invocation from multifaith chaplain the  Reverend David F.H. Dorsey, board of trustees chair Chris Canavan ’84 welcomed graduates and attendees. 

President Carmen Twillie Ambar recognized the faculty members who received the 2022-2023 Excellence in Teaching Awards. She then acknowledged the faculty members retiring at the end of the year, including Brian Alegant, Pamela Brooks, Chris Howell, James Howsmon, Roger Laushman,  David Orr, Tom Newlin, John Scofield, Dan Styer, Peter Takács, Carol Tufts, and Jim Walsh.

Julia Maskin, representing the Class of 2024 as the student commencement speaker, spoke to how her Oberlin experience has been marked by her deep connections to student life and advocacy for equity issues.

This year’s Alumni Medal was awarded to Nancy Dandridge Cooper ’51, MA ’54, in honor of her dedication to service to Oberlin College, and the award for Distinguished Service to the Community was presented to John Gates, MAT ’72, and Linda Gates, MAT ’65.

Emeritus Professor of History Clayton R. Koppes presented Dr. Kathryn Anastos ’75, an Honorary Doctor of Science, for advancing HIV and AIDS research and treatment on a global and local scale. “Anastos has made more than 50 trips to Rwanda and Central Africa working among the most marginalized people in the most stigmatized of diseases,” Koppes noted. “Dr. Anastos testifies to the power of intellect energized by a passion for social justice. She offers a vision for the class of 2024.”

Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen also presented Giddens with the Honorary Doctor of Music in recognition of her contributions to American musical history and advocacy for a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins through art. “Giddens stands as one of the most important creative and artistic voices of our time,” Quillen shared. 

Giddens took the stage 24 years after attending her own graduation from Oberlin with a degree in Vocal Performance and marveled at the circuitous route the ship of her life had taken. “I’m standing here before you, the unlikeliest of things—an opera singer turned banjo player—on this day of your celebration.”

As she began her address, she fought  tears and asked for a moment of silence for all people “displaced and killed by armed conflict around the world.”

She then went on to admit she didn’t remember much from the speech delivered at her own graduation, but that she hoped graduates would carry a few core messages from her remarks into their lives when they looked back on Commencement day:

  • Dive into whatever you want to do. But have “no expectations. . . Let passion rule your life but be smart about it.”
  • Be a lifelong learner—without fear. Decide to “continuously learn something new” but “you cannot be afraid to suck at it.” (Like picking up the banjo after being trained as an operatic soprano, for instance.)
  • Be open to the unknown. “It’s great to have a goal,” Gidden said, “but be aware that you may not know what the path to that goal will look like.” Taking an unplanned detour can often lead to the most rewarding destinations.
  • Use your privilege wisely. “It’s absolutely not shameful to have privilege,” she said, “but it is shameful not to share it as much as you can.” And we all have varying degrees of privilege. “You can be poor in money and rich in emotional support,” she explained. “That doesn’t make us more worthy or deserving; it simply makes us lucky.”
  • Don’t lose hope that change is possible. She acknowledged that the challenges before us, as a nation and a species, are immense: the Amazon is on fire, disease is ravaging the globe, people are being killed. “My heart is with you,” she said, before adding that we must continue the work to better the world anyway. “Salvation,” she said, “lies in each other.”

Giddens concluded with an emotionally charged a cappella rendition of a song by “friend and OG activist” Peggy Seeger, “How I Long for Peace,” encouraging the crowd to sing along with the chorus. Hundreds of voices sang in unison, the sound taking on the aspect of a prayer: Oh, how I long for peace.

As the class of 2024 processed across the stage to receive recognition and their degree, cheers and shouts of encouragement were heard throughout Tappan Square.



President Carmen Twillie Ambar closed the exercises with some positive words of encouragement for the class of 2024.

“Oberlin graduates literally go out and change the world for good,” she said. “I can assure you that you are ready for all that awaits you in the world beyond. The only thing remaining for you to do is to go out and fulfill your destiny.” 

Watch the commencement livestream.

See commencement photo galleries

Read the commencement address

View the commencement program

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