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Spelman College Commencement 2017

Commencement Recap 2019


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Commencement Ceremony 2019

Class Day

Through Laughter and Tears, Class of 2019 Reflect During Class Day

During their Class Day service, the top class of 2019 students reflected on the trials and triumphs of their four years at Spelman. Through laughter and a few tears, they offered thoughts and wisdom from Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and their own hearts. “We leave behind a legacy of love, tenacity and change,” said Bria Paige, C’2019, Spelman Student Government Association president. “Our time at Spelman was the catalyst for the women we will become.” In her Ivy Oration, valedictorian Ariana Benson, C’2019, challenged her classmates to rethink their goals.  “Too often, we conceptualize changing the world as a revolutionary act, as something that requires a massive movement, or major life experience, or a title,” she said. “I challenge us instead, to think of world-changing as a product of the butterfly effect. One flap of a butterfly’s wings may start a tornado. A single stone dropped in the middle of the ocean can make ripples that launch a massive tidal wave. A fleeting moment of connection can change a person’s life.”


Spelman’s Graduating Class of 2019 Charged to ‘Be Heard, Inspire Change’

Throughout Commencement weekend, Spelman’s graduating class of 2019 was reminded of their responsibility to inspire change. “As members of the Spelman sisterhood, you have a moral responsibility to use your voice to inspire positive change in your world,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms during her Commencement address Sunday. “It is ingrained in your DNA.” Mayor Bottoms spoke about the sacrifices of civil rights activists like her great aunt Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, C’65, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who fought against segregation throughout the south. “You are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Sonia Sanchez, the 2019 honorary degree recipient, told the 480 graduates. “You are the ones who can change the world.” On Saturday morning Baccalaureate speaker, Alisha Lola Jones, Ph.D., encouraged the graduates to make their voices heard. “Go and shine your light,” she said. “Be attuned to your greatness. Honor your elders. Listen to others, tell your stories and make them hear you.”

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Class of 2019 Stories

Valedictorian Ariana Benson Uses Creative Writing to Preserve Cultural Memory

by Allison Howard | May 19, 2019

Ariana Benson

After taking a biology course during her freshman year, Ariana Benson, C’2019, realized she wasn’t interested in body mechanics. She wanted to do more than treat patients. She wanted to be able to tell their stories.

“I realized medicine interested me because of the patient narratives, not the actual science,” said Benson, valedictorian of Spelman’s class of 2019. “So, I decided to change my career path without actually changing my major.”

Benson, who will receive her bachelor of science in psychology, enlisted the help of Spelman’s faculty and created a cross-discipline team of mentors who helped her find ways to bridge her art with her talent for science by integrating psychological principles with poetic practice and Black storytelling traditions.

She credits her mentors -- television writer Elyce Strong Mann and award-winning poet Sharan Strange, with helping her develop her voice. “These women were not only excellent mentors, they were shining examples of Black women writers, and their love for writing gave me the courage to pursue my passion,” said Benson.

Her fusion of psychology and creative writing as a means to interrogate methods by which modern Black narratives serve to curate and preserve collective cultural memory earned her a Marshall Scholarship in 2018.

“It has been exciting to have Ariana in my classes, witnessing her thoughtful, probing discussions of poetry and her generous, insightful critiques of her peers' work,” said Strange, senior lecturer in the Spelman English department.

“We can feel assured that she will make the most of the opportunities afforded her by a Marshall Scholarship, and will go on to distinguish herself as a thinker and writer who serves a greater social vision.”

Benson is the 2019 recipient of the Academy of American Poets'/Edith A. Hambie Poetry Prize. In addition to honing her creative writing skills, Benson served as captain of Spelman’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge Quizbowl team, helping to earn $51,000 in scholarship grants for the College. She is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Psi Chi International Honor Society for Psychology, and Phi Beta Kappa.

“For me, Spelman represented a kind of safe haven that I had never had access to growing up in predominantly white Chesapeake,” said the Virginia native. “It was a chance not to be seen as the 'smart Black girl' but just as one smart girl surrounded by other very smart girls.”

After graduation, Benson will continue her studies in London, pursuing masters degrees in creative writing and screenwriting at Royal Holloway, University of London in the United Kingdom.