With a keynote speaker noting the value of a liberal arts education, 314 students received diplomas at Washington & Jefferson College’s commencement ceremony Saturday.
Before being sent out into the “real world” of jobs, or to graduate, medical or law schools, the students departing W&J were told by Alexa Hirschfeld, the co-founder and CEO of the e-commerce company Paperless Post, that “people do their best work when they love things,” and that they should “start at the bottom, so that you’ll learn about the world, and you’ll learn where you want to fit in.”
Hirschfeld was also given an honorary doctorate at the ceremony, which unfolded in the James David Ross Family Recreation Center. Hirschfeld’s company employs more than 100 people in New York and London, and reaches more than 85 million users. She started the company with her younger brother after graduating from Harvard in 2006 with a classics degree focusing on ancient Greek and Latin poetry.
“I wanted to create something that people actually needed,” she said.
The Rev. Mark Johnson, a 1994 graduate of W&J, also received an honorary degree. He was W&J’s first African-American senior class commencement speaker, and was named chaplain to the Cleveland Indians baseball team in 2017.
In a sign of how times have changed, members of W&J’s Class of 1969 were honored at the ceremony. Entirely male and predominantly white, W&J President John Knapp noted that one of the reforms W&J’s graduating class agitated for a half-century ago was the admission of women to the student body, which occurred the following year. Knapp also explained that members of the Class of 1969 sharply questioned Edmund Muskie, the Democratic vice presidential nominee the year before, about the Vietnam War when he visited the W&J campus, and that Sly and the Family Stone performed at W&J in 1969.