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Retired admiral, Hamilton alum deliver speeches at ceremony

Posted 5/22/23

Retired Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard gave the commencement address at Hamilton College’s 211th commencement

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Retired admiral, Hamilton alum deliver speeches at ceremony


CLINTON — Retired Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard, chair of the 2020-22 Congressional Naming Commission, the first woman to become a four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, and the first Black woman to captain a U.S. naval ship, gave the commencement address at Hamilton College’s 211th commencement on Sunday, May 21, to a class of 500 graduates.

Howard was awarded an honorary degree, along with Hamilton alumnus Evan Smith ’87, who delivered the baccalaureate speech. Smith is a senior advisor at Emerson Collective, where he advises local news nonprofits around the country and advocates for strengthening democracy by informing communities. Previously he spent 13 years as the first editor-in-chief at The Texas Tribune, an early model for public journalism, and prior to that he served as editor of Texas Monthly.

In her remarks, Howard reviewed the gradual process by which women were allowed into the armed forces, noting initially women were only allowed to reach a threshold of 2% of the armed forces “which I understand because if we were 3% we would have taken over.” Howard also reviewed the racial integration of the armed services and the slow pace of equalizing the experience of serving for Black people.

Howard emphasized throughout her remarks to graduates that, “You need to do what’s right, not for yourself, but for the common good” and that, “A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility of upholding our common group.”

Invoking the college’s namesake Alexander Hamilton, she quoted, “The first duty of society is justice.” And in concluding she added, “… small acts of goodness, well, they get us to common ground. They get us to success as a nation. … You are the future of justice in society.”

In his remarks, journalist Evan Smith said, “The 2020 election was not stolen. The pandemic was not a hoax. Climate change is real. There: I said it. Now you can tell your kids that your baccalaureate speaker was a woke lunatic from the fake news media.

“In fact, what I am is someone who believes in telling it like it is. We need more of that. We need more facts, reality, and truth. We need more good information to push out the bad.

“But who’ll provide it? This is my sweet spot, and here’s my spiel. Since 2005, a quarter of the nation’s newspapers have shut down. By 2025, it will be a third. 70 million of us in this country — one-fifth of the nation’s population — have no local news source or one about to topple over. Many of those 70 million are people of color. The majority live in counties where the median household income is below the national average. We live in two Americas: One informed and one not. No wonder voter turnout is miserable and polarization is off the charts. No wonder conspiracy theories are out of control.

“Making matters worse: We live in the United States of Confirmation Bias. We put earbuds in our ears as we make our way through our day to keep the outside world out. We self-exile. We curate our cable channels and our social media feeds and our satellite radio dials so the only voices we hear are ones already in our heads. We can go a lifetime without encountering a point of view different from our own.

“This is what’s killing us. It’s the poison coursing through all of our veins. Believe me when I tell you: Robust, reliable, credible, nonpartisan, freely accessible nonprofit news — journalism in the public interest — is the antidote to the poison.”

Other commencement speakers included Mount Sinai, NY, resident Ryan Smolarsky ‘23, recipient of the college’s prize awarded to the member of the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the college,” and class speaker New York City resident Juliet Davidson, selected by her classmates. Smolarsky is a physics/pre-med major and Davidson is a theatre major.


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