Bates College graduates 463 in historic virtual Commencement ceremony

Seen by more than 10,000 viewers around the world, the Bates College Class of 2020 emerged from the tumult of their abbreviated senior year to graduate Sunday on a triumphant note, as the college conferred bachelor’s degrees on 463 seniors in a ceremony delivered via livestream.

“The Class of 2020 will hold a special place in the college’s history,” said President Clayton Spencer in her welcome, recorded on the Historic Quad earlier in May.

The graduates have endured a singular experience — the global COVID-19 pandemic — that, she said, “I hope and expect has brought moments of joy amidst the frustrations, and an arc of learning and growth amidst the ceaseless uncertainty of these times.”

Commencement Day scenes: May 31, 2020

The 463-member class comes from 37 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, and from 52 countries, including 38 from Maine.

+Class of 2020 By the Numbers

Four hundred and sixty-three members of the Class of 2020 are set to graduate on Sunday, May 31.

  • 37 States (plus D.C.) represented
  • 38 Students from Maine
  • 52 Countries represented (including U.S.)
  • 32 Receiving departmental honors
  • 41.5% varsity athletes
  • 12.3% first generation to college
  • 63.9% studied abroad*

* Defined as a semester or more.


The Class of 2020 has accumulated 576 academic majors.

  • 348 single majors
  • 114 double majors
  • 0 triple majors
Majors distribution 

American Cultural Studies: 6

Anthropology: 12

Art and Visual Culture: 19

Biological Chemistry: 11

Biology: 27

Chemistry: 9

Chinese: 2

Classical and Medieval Studies: 8

Dance: 5

East Asian Studies: 5

Economics: 71

Engineering: 2

English: 16

Environmental Studies: 30

European Studies: 3

French and Francophone Studies: 11

Gender and Sexuality Studies: 1

Geology: 7

German: 4

History: 18

Interdisciplinary Studies: 5

Japanese: 2

Latin American Studies: 2

Mathematics: 32

Music: 3

Neuroscience: 16

Philosophy: 17

Physics: 14

Politics: 76

Psychology: 58

Religious Studies: 6

Rhetoric: 23

Sociology: 31

Spanish: 12

Theater: 5

Women and Gender Studies: 7


Mirroring many of the elements of the traditional on-campus ceremony, the 154th Bates Commencement comprised video segments recorded over the last three weeks, including a social-distanced processional to the Historic Quad featuring Spencer, Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Malcolm Hill, and Multifaith Chaplain Brittany Longsdorf.

Since its first in 1867, Bates has never cancelled or postponed a Commencement.

Wearing a face mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael Murray, the Charles Franklin Phillips Professor of Economics, carries the mace on May 11 during the taping of portions of the 154th Bates Commencement. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Spencer’s welcome also expressed hope that the seniors will go into the world with an advanced understanding of the vexing complexity of the world’s problems.

“I hope that as a result of having your world turned upside down this spring, you will understand certain things sooner and better than the typical senior graduating from college,” she continued.

Welcome | A. Clayton Spencer, President | Commencement 2020 | Bates College

“I hope that you will realize that hard problems do not admit of glib or easy answers; that sound decisions are based on the conscious integration of evidence, values, and empathetic imagination; that unequal access to resources and opportunities magnifies the suffering of some groups over others.

“Wherever you may be, whatever you may be wearing, I send you, from the entire Bates community, our most sincere and joyous congratulations.”

“Most fundamental, I hope that you will never assume that the world can be a stable or fair place unless you get up every day and fight for truth, justice, and our shared humanity.”

The Historic Quad may be empty, but “I imagine you out there in your homes, surrounded by loved ones — some of you, I hope, turned out in caps and gowns,” Spencer concluded. “Wherever you may be, whatever you may be wearing, I send you, from the entire Bates community, our most sincere and joyous congratulations.”

Described by Spencer as “a force on the Bates campus for the past four years,” Senior Speaker Alexandria Onuoha ’20 titled her prerecorded Commencement address “Stay Strong, and Walk Like You Got Some Sense” —  advice from her mother, Vinette Gayle, to whom the address was dedicated.

Senior Address | Alexandria C. Onuoha | Commencement 2020 | Bates College

Onuoha credited Gayle with instilling “in me the values of consistency, activism, initiative, and warmth.” A double major in psychology and dance from Malden, Mass., Onuoha used facets from her Bates career to illustrate how those qualities had powered her own success — exercising activism and initiative, for example, to lead student organizations in advancing social justice on campus.

“Our story as a class is not perfect, but it’s real,” Onuoha said. “For students who have been waiting for this moment to be celebrated — especially for students of color, for first-generation students, for international students — it’s more than a walk, it’s a moment of victory.

“We may not have been able to walk across the stage and then hug our families, but we do get to walk with a Bates degree and a holistic perspective on academics and on life. We get to walk towards the next chapter of our lives as writers of our own story.”

Though recorded weeks ago, Commencement Greetings delivered by artist Vanessa German, an exhibitor at the Bates Museum of Art in 2019–20, delivered a message very much in the current national moment.

“The future belongs to human beings who can hold justice at the center of their truth. And you all — you graduates of now — are rare, promising human beings,” she said.

“You are the bridge generation. You are bridging a past of fastness and desperate injustice to a future that is so eager for your open heart, your brilliance, your capacity to be emotionally available, courageous, vulnerable, and a rocket ship of perseverance.”

Commencement Greeting | Vanessa German | Commencement 2020

German encouraged the graduates go forth with courage and authenticity. “Bet on yourself,” she said.  “Even if you need to take a leap of faith and it makes your leg shake, it is better to go forth quaking in your own name than it is to claim someone else’s hand of playing it safe.”

She described her faith in the seniors, telling them to rely on their self-knowledge gained at Bates. “You know your places of strength and you know your small places too. You know of the power that resides within you — when you are in the click and the groove of the thing that is your thing. You know what right feels like, when you are right inside of it.

“So from this point forward, offer to no one the lie of your smallness. You get to rise to the occasion of who you are and you are whole. Move towards the future that is calling your own name with the sound of your own voice.

“You are a rare human being and you must decide who you will be and how you will go forth for the world. We are waiting for your dreams and your ideas for the restless, energetic spirit that is rising up within you. We are waiting for you.”

The conferral of degrees featured slides of each of the 463 graduates, each with a photo of the senior’s choosing plus their major and academic honors. Dean of the Faculty Malcolm Hill read each name.

And though the virtual ceremony didn’t allow the usual in-person hugs and congratulations that mark any sort of graduation, more than 100 Bates faculty and staff recorded personal greetings for the class.

More than 100 Bates faculty and staff recorded video messages of congratulations and support to the Class of 2020.

In her closing benediction, Multifaith Chaplain Brittany Longsdorf asked the Class of 2020 to view moments from their time at Bates as “not mundane but sacred. They are the fibers that weave together who you are and who you will continue to become.”

“You are spread across the world now, a beautiful Bobcat diaspora, but this place now lives in your bones just as your essence still rustles the leaves of stalwart maples and oaks lining each sidewalk you trod,” she said.

“Envision the face of each family member, faculty, staff, and fellow student who journeyed with you through your Bates days and nights. As your locus changes, feel our collective blessing.”

Full Program | Bates Commencement 2020