Former Sen. Doug Jones, a U.S. attorney in Alabama who prosecuted accomplices in the racially motivated 1963 16th St. Baptist Church bombing, addressed the 493 members of the graduating class at Hamilton’s commencement, urging them to be guardians of democracy. The ceremony took place on Sunday, May 19, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House.

Other commencement speakers included Quinn Brown ’24, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, awarded to the member of the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the College,” as selected by the faculty, and class speaker Christian Hernández Barragán ’24, who was chosen by his peers. (Read their remarks to the Class of 2024 below.)

Watch Highlight Video View Photo Gallery

The Class of 2024 had co-valedictorians: twin sisters Chloe and Olivia Chiota, both biology majors from Southborough, Mass.

Rosa Brooks
Rosa Brooks presents the baccalaureate address on Saturday, May 18. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Jones was awarded an honorary degree, along with Rosa Brooks, the Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Law and Policy at Georgetown Law and author of Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City. Brooks addressed the graduating class at the baccalaureate ceremony on May 18.

Jones’ Commencement remarks focused on the need to protect our democracy and find ways to unite Americans regardless of their political beliefs.  He urged graduates to be messengers like Paul Revere was, spreading a message that America’s greatest threat to democracy is  “the divisions among us.”

Jones acknowledged the global events the Class of 2024 has seen, including military tensions across the globe, threats to democracy, the rise of racial hatred and anti-Semitic behavior, an increase in gun violence, and college campus demonstrations, plus a global pandemic.

“While the world may seem on fire now, it has always been the youth of this country that helped lead the way toward a better future. Yours is not the first generation of Americans that has had to navigate difficult times,” said Jones, noting his upbringing in the Jim Crow South and witnessing firsthand the violence that erupted from those opposed to the civil rights movement.

He told the class they are ready to meet whatever challenges they may face and to seize opportunities as they arise. “You are here today because, as the Hamilton motto goes, you grew to ‘Know Thyself’ and in doing so, you never lost faith in yourself,” he said.

Jones referenced Hamilton’s promises: to explore one’s passions, be able to express oneself, expand one’s perspectives, and expect opportunities.

“Just as Hamilton made those promises to you … you should make the same Hamilton promises to yourself and carry them wherever you go … [And] I say that continuing to expand your perspectives may be the most important promise … Regardless of where this country goes politically, the diversity of this country will continue to grow and your worldview should grow as well.”

Doug Jones 2024 Commencement speaker Doug Jones at commencement

“I dare say that Hamilton has lived up to those promises, and you are as prepared as any graduating class in the country to meet whatever is ahead of you,” Jones said. “But just as Hamilton made those promises to you … you should make the same Hamilton promises to yourself and carry them wherever you go … [And] I say that continuing to expand your perspectives may be the most important promise … Regardless of where this country goes politically, the diversity of this country will continue to grow and your worldview should grow as well.”

He urged members of the class to “serve the greater good in some capacity or another. We have been the recipients of so many blessings that I think it is a moral obligation to give back as much as we can.” Jones’ suggestions for ways in which to do that include work with nonprofits, education, service, the military, or elected office. “But I want to ask you today to consider another — and that is as foot soldiers in protecting democracy,” he said.

“We are so divided these days that we have moved beyond policy and political differences to where everything is a win or lose battle with no sense of common ground. Us vs. Them. Good vs. Evil. That is unsustainable for a democracy,” Jones said, calling it a long-term problem.

Noting that America has had potential threats from many quarters, Jones observed, “It seems that perhaps more than any time since the Civil War, the greatest threat to our democracy is coming from within — from the very deep divisions we see among Americans that are only growing deeper.”  

Jones said he believes that it’s these divisions that call for a new, symbolic warning: “Three lanterns in the Old North Church, three lanterns in every city and town in America in as many places as possible, warning that our greatest threat is the divisions among us, a culture that has moved beyond political partisanship to a culture of contempt and in many, many instances to a culture of hate. And we need legions of modern-day Paul Reveres to spread the message.

“And that’s where you guys come in,” he said.

Jones asked the graduates, “Who will be today’s Paul Revere to understand the significance of the three-lantern signal and warn the citizens of this country ­… about the growing threat to democracy from within? It can’t simply be political pundits or talking heads in the media. And it certainly can’t be someone galloping down the virtual street warning only those on the left that it is their neighbors on the right who are creating the problems, or warning those on the right that it is their neighbors on the left who are out to destroy all that they have worked for in America. We have too many of those already.”

He said that today’s Paul Reveres have to be average citizens — and recent college graduates.

And, he noted, “The warning can’t be a call to take up violence, but to have dialogues instead of monologues. … I mean talk about long-term goals and objectives, not political power. Engage more, not less. Listen and understand. To do what the great fictional lawyer Atticus Finch said — to walk around in another person’s skin and see things from their point of view.”

Quinn Brown ’24
Quinn Brown ’24, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, spoke at commencement. Photo: Adam J. Brockway

Despite his concerns, Jones said he remains hopeful and optimistic. “I have seen — and felt — hope and optimism. I see it today, in each of you, as you begin the next exciting phase of your life. We should all ‘Know Thyself’ and remain confident in ourselves and in this great country.

Today we may be in peril again, but it’s not quite midnight just yet,” Jones observed. “And each of you can be the messenger that can raise the alarm in time and bring this divided nation together.”

Brown, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, is a history major from Rockport, Maine. An Adirondack Adventure orientation leader, he spoke about the significance of community and how he found it at Hamilton. (Watch Quinn’s speech)

What has made Hamilton truly special for me is not just the academic vigor or specific extracurricular activities. It’s this community. It’s this community that I have had the privilege to share this campus with every day.”

Quinn Brown 2024 recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize

“Despite all the COVID craziness, that first year was perhaps the most important of my time at Hamilton. I was introduced to college-level history, which has become my academic obsession. Later that year, I was hired to be a leader for Adirondack Adventure, our wilderness orientation program,” he said. “Since then, introducing students to Hamilton through wilderness adventure trips has been the most fulfilling experience of my life.”

Brown noted that Hamilton “has given me the opportunity to challenge myself academically and pursue my interests outside of the classroom. While we tend to separate academics from the more experiential aspects of Hamilton,” he observed, “I think it’s important to look at them together. Whether it’s working with my fellow students in the classroom or leading trips in the Adirondacks, one common thread runs through my experience — that is the importance of community.”

President Wippman hands out a cane at commencement
President Wippman hands out a cane at his final commencement ceremony. Photo: Adam J. Brockway

Brown said that sense of community is perhaps most evident leading backcountry trips. “Being out in the woods where everything is stripped down. It’s just you and your group. In that situation we are literally dependent on each other for the essentials of food, shelter, and friendship.”

But, he added, “I’ve also felt that same sense of community in the classroom collaborating with my peers, or in social spaces just spending time with my friends …. What has made Hamilton truly special for me is not just the academic vigor or specific extracurricular activities. It’s this community. It’s this community that I have had the privilege to share this campus with every day.”

Citing his history studies as a way to dive into the past, Brown said he also wants to look forward to the future. “It can be easy to look at our future with fear. Political strife at home, global climate change, and devastating wars around the globe seem to represent an era where we as humans are at our worst,” he remarked.

“I often find myself torn apart by these crushing realities. But if there’s one thing the study of history has taught me, it’s that humans have remade, reshaped, and reimagined our world in an infinite number of ways … As we move toward life after Hamilton, I think it’s essential to not leave behind the models of the community we as a class have forged together. The challenges we face in our modern world are admittedly enormous and complex, but perhaps we can start by simply treating our world as we would our community at Hamilton,” he concluded.

Hernández Barragán, a theatre and government double major from Santa Rosa, Calif., was selected by his peers to serve as the 2024 class speaker. He spoke about the importance of collecting stories from one’s experiences. (Watch Christian’s speech)

2024 Commencement - student celebrating with a cane
Photo: Adam J. Brockway

“Like many, my experience coming to Hamilton was nothing I could have ever imagined. I’m from California, so there was absolutely no way I was getting to Clinton, N.Y., to come see the school amidst a pandemic,” Hernández Barragán said. “I look back at my 18-year-old self, and I still can’t believe that I made my decision to go to Hamilton based on someone telling me that the place was an hour away from New York City. I remember trying to make all my friends back home jealous telling them I would get to go to the city every weekend and hit the hottest clubs, but these ‘clubs’ ended up just being the Rok, 12 North, and The Little Pub,” he joked.  

Hernández Barragán said that in coming to a place he knew nothing about, he had his share of panicked moments when he first arrived. “But what really mattered was that amidst my other emotions and feelings, I was excited. Excited to enter an environment that was new and full of unknowns. In my head, I knew that this would make a good story to tell someday. 

Throughout my life, I’ve been taught that stories are important to tell. And that some of the best stories come from a place of risk and adventure. Over the past four years, we’ve collected stories that bring joy, laughter, pain, and reflection, and we shouldn’t shy away from that. Each one of us has a story to tell.”

Christian Hernández Barragán 2024 class speaker Christian Hernandez Barragan

Hernández Barragán said that to prepare for his speech he spoke with classmates about their most impactful Hamilton memories. “Each person who reflected on their story told it to me with such love and fondness for the moment and the people within it,” he said. He recalled a science researcher whose group jumped into the KJ water feature to commemorate the conclusion of their summer research; a member of the women’s basketball team strengthened her bond with her teammates after a playoff loss.

“I talked with a classmate who is the first in their family to graduate college and shared their experience of saying goodbye to his mom and dad for the first time,” Hernández Barragán said. “Through navigating campus life, he discovered a sense of belonging and realized their equal capability to take up space and achieve success on this campus.”

Commencement 2024 - Christian Barragan
Photo: Alexandria Leland

Hernández Barragán acknowledged that members of the class have accumulated many memories, “and though some may not be happy or exciting, they are still stories we should tell. We are all heading in different directions, different paths, but wherever you go,” he urged, “please lead a life that’s worth recounting. Live a life where you can tell stories that invite you to reflect, that are exciting, and meaningful. Before making any decision, say, ‘Will this make a good story to tell?’”

In his parting words, Hernández Barragán said, “I think it’s a beautiful thing to have had these four years together with our collective experiences and that somebody right next to you or a couple rows in front, is a part of one of your stories. After today, we will be done with all this … but we will also leave holding tightly to our stories. So, tell them, and tell them again, and never forget about them.”

Related Stories

Chloe and Olivia Chiota

Sharing More than DNA, Twins Tie as Class Valedictorians

Chloe and Olivia Chiota came to Hamilton four years ago as a package deal. The identical twins from Southborough, Mass., knew they wanted to play lacrosse together and be challenged academically. Several NESCAC colleges made their list, but one thing stood out about Hamilton.

Class & Charter Day 2024

Congratulations to Student Class & Charter Day Honorees!

At the annual Class & Charter Day convocation on May 7, 158 students were honored with academic prizes and scholarships, and faculty teaching award recipients were recognized. Among top awards, Quinn Brown ’24, received the James Soper Merrill Prize, and Josef Kubofcik ’25 received the Fillius Drown Prize Scholarship.

Help us provide an accessible education, offer innovative resources and programs, and foster intellectual exploration.

Site Search