Carleton Commencement 2024

Four hundred and sixteen students graduated from the Carleton College Class of 2024 during a Commencement ceremony featuring remarks by President Alison Byerly, College Chaplain Schuyler Vogel ’07, Mary Blanchard ’24, Amira Adeyemi Aladetan ’24, and Kao Kalia Yang ’03.

Erica Helgerud ’20 8 June 2024 Posted In:
Focus on a student's graduation cap decorated with paper butterflies that reads,
Commencement 2024, photos by Dan IversonPhoto: Dan Iverson

Carleton College graduated 416 students from the Class of 2024 during its 150th Commencement ceremony, held Saturday, June 8 on the Bald Spot.

Hundreds of friends and family members attended in order to applaud the latest Carleton graduates, with cheers from the crowd echoing across campus after each diploma was presented.

Michelle Mattson, professor of German and provost and vice president for academic affairs, read the names of the students as President Alison Byerly awarded the diplomas — and a handshake — to every member of the Class of 2024 in attendance.

An honorary doctoral degree was conferred during the ceremony to award-winning Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang ’03, who also gave the Commencement address.

Yang’s address was inspiring and heartfelt. She brought her lyrical writing to life as she spoke about the wisdom of her grandmother, Youa Lee, who passed away the winter before Yang’s graduation from Carleton in 2003, as well as the power and history of her family, herself, and the Hmong people.

Kao Kalia Yang gives a speech on the Commencement stage.
Kao Kalia Yang ’03

“Graduates, 21 years ago, I knew not what books I would write or the work that I would do,” Yang said. “I could not conceive of how Carleton, this college, could and would be a friend to me. How, without my knowing, there would be eyes to see what I was doing, ears to hear what I was saying, and hands to pick me up and help me stand in an unstable world. A world where far too many stories like mine, like my people’s, like so many others, go unwritten and unknown.”

Yang described in her address an important part of her own history with storytelling — her selective mutism, which developed when she saw her older relatives struggling to learn English and receiving little help from American people and systems. “In a great moment of rebellion, of hurt,” Yang said, “I decided as a child that if there was no room for those I loved in English, then I would stop speaking in it.” At Carleton, however, Yang said that she “learned how to whisper.”

“Professor Rich Keiser, who is here today, told me that I was here, not to become a consumer of knowledge, but one day to become a producer of it,” she said. “At Carleton, I learned I could be writerly. Professor Robert Tisdale wrote on the margins of a journal, ‘Here, you are almost writing like a writer.’ At Carleton, I learned that even though many professors don’t understand what I want to do, all it takes is one who is open to what I can do. Visiting professor Monica Torres said to me, ‘Words won’t hold you back. You can do what you want to do on the page.’”

During her time at Columbia University, where she attended after Carleton to get her MFA in creative writing, Yang realized that she was not only telling her story, or the story of her family; she was helping tell the story of the Hmong people, and of humanity.

“I was in fact documenting… the Hmong American experience,” she said, “an experience that was larger than even this country alone, a global experience of war and displacement, of poverty and yearning, of hopes fueling dreams, spirits that refused to die — forgotten and unknown. I was in fact putting together the pieces of who I am and who I would be… In each story [I told], I was in fact realizing the vast diversity of the garden of humanity, growth so thickly layered and complicated that I would never be able to twist free, let alone untangle myself, and that loneliness was simply my way of trying to articulate the deep dive into the sea of being.”

Yang even tied the extensive Carleton alumni network into her garden of humanity. She told the story of how Chris Fischbach ’94 — then the senior editor at Coffee House Press — read the manuscript of what would become her first published memoir, The Latehomecomer, and “said the words I didn’t know I would ever hear: ‘You are the writer that I’ve been waiting for.’”

“And so I leave you with this,” Yang said in the conclusion of her address. “That each of you do, in whatever capacity you can, what you can to protect your life, the sanctity of other lives, and to do so with grace, with an understanding that you belong in the garden of humanity, however imperfect, however flawed, however painful, and that when your hearts are tired, that you call upon those who love you to be with you. My grandmother was not here for my graduation 21 years ago, but her memory has been my friend since. It has been the strength of my father’s arms holding me high that has kept my gaze trained on the different horizons. It has been the quiet fortitude of my mother’s love that has guided me in moments of uncertainty and doubt. And it has been my people, the Hmong, who have given me the great cause of my life, to tell our stories and to impress upon a world fraught with war, the light of peace.”

Yang followed graduation reflections from Mary Blanchard ’24, computer science and physics double major, and Amira Adeyemi Aladetan ’24, biology major with an Africana studies minor.

Mary Blanchard gives a speech on the Commencement stage.
Mary Blanchard ’24

Blanchard opened her speech by sharing her opinion that going to college is a lot like going to preschool again, pointing out that in both cases, students are dropped off in a brand new place, where they meet brand new people and learn brand new things.

“The point is,” she said, “both preschool and college mark a big step in our academic and social development… College brings us back to fundamental building blocks [just like preschool]. Especially at Carleton, champion of the liberal arts, we have been given the opportunity to become better readers, writers, analytical observers, and critical thinkers. Although we won’t be quizzed on every reading we did for Bollywood Nation or the figure captions of our BIO 125 lab report, or even on the topic for our comps, we leave Carleton with the skills to be an engaged and informed individual. Just as preschool prepared us for the next steps in our education, college has allowed us to hone important skills that we bring with us into our next pursuits.”

Aladetan followed Blanchard and emphasized during her speech that “failure isn’t a setback; it can be a stepping stone for success,” using her experience at Carleton as an example.

Amira Aladetan gives a speech on the Commencement stage.
Amira Adeyemi Aladetan ’24

“I’m sure that being at Carleton has easily been one of life’s most challenging yet rewarding experiences for many of us,” she said. “A pivotal moment for me was my freshman winter term… After almost failing [BIO 125], I quickly wrote off being a biology major, medicine, and thought a lot about transferring. Yet, what stopped me in my tracks was a completely random course I took called In & Out of Africa: How Transnational Lives Matter, taught by [Broom Professor of Social Demography and Anthropology] Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg… My experiences in her classroom and her research background propelled me back to pursuing medicine and now public health. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her and my numerous advisers, family, friends, and God… Being at Carleton taught me, and I hope many of you, to redefine my understanding of success and failure… When thinking about these so-called failures from myself and my peers, it is crucial to understand that you may fail, but the simple act of trying means so much more in the end.”

Blanchard and Aladetan’s focus on taking what they learned from Carleton into their future endeavors is a theme of Commencement every year, as graduation marks a beginning as well as an end for each member of the Class of 2024. The newly-recognized alumni will soon head off to graduate schools, fellowships, and professional positions across the country and the globe, representing Carleton excellence everywhere they go.

President Byerly relayed in her welcoming remarks that she feels “a special affinity” for the Class of 2024, because she arrived as Carleton’s president in the fall of 2021, as the campus was resuming fully in-person classes.

Alison Byerly gives a speech on the Commencement stage.
President Alison Byerly

“My process of getting to know Carleton, already somewhat familiar to me as a Carleton parent, more fully and deeply that fall seemed similar to the experience of sophomores,” Byerly said. “Your first-year experience of Carleton was a partial one, but when you returned in the fall of 2021, you were able to dive fully into the Carleton community. The experience many of you described at that time, of feeling immersed in a world that now seemed more colorful and real, resonated deeply with me.”

Byerly emphasized the extraordinary challenges that the Class of 2024 has faced over the years, starting with the fact that almost none of them got to have a traditional high school graduation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is thrilling to see those committed, resilient graduates walk across the stage today,” Byerly said. “Class of 2024, you have not simply completed your degree requirements, you have achieved tremendous success during a period of extraordinary change in the world and challenges in your own personal experience as a result of COVID. As I have gotten to know many of you over the last three years, one of the things I most appreciate about you is the passion with which you seized the opportunity to make the most of your time at Carleton in spite of those early challenges. I know from the poster sessions and comps presentations I attended this year that you maintained the high level of intellectual curiosity, hard work, and creative thinking necessary to complete substantial independent research in every discipline offered at Carleton. You have also been leaders in campus activities, community engagement, and activism that encourages the College to always strive to do better… Carleton is not just your school for four years; it is your home for a lifetime… Congratulations and best wishes to all of you.”

After this year’s Commencement drew to a close with the valedictory from College Chaplain Schuyler Vogel ’07 and a rousing chorus of “Carleton, Our Alma Mater,” the members of the Class of 2024 filed out of their seats to congregate with their families, professors, friends, and others on the Bald Spot, happy to spend one last afternoon lounging in the sun with a picnic lunch before leaving campus for the first time as Carleton alumni.

The 2024 Commencement ceremony was live streamed and recorded. The full video will be posted on the Commencement website.

Erica Helgerud ’20 is the news and social media manager for Carleton College.