2017 Commencement Recap

May 14, 2017

The Class of 2017 received their diplomas during Pomona College’s 124th Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 14, 2017 at Marston Quad.

U.S. Senator and alumnus Brian Schatz ’94 (D-Hawaii) delivered the principal address. Other speakers who received honorary degrees included Sarah C. R. Elgin ’67, P ’05, Gay McDougall and Frederick “Rick” P ’95 and Susan Sontag ’64, P ’95. Please see their bios below.

In addition, President David Oxtoby provided a Charge to the Class of 2017, Kimberly Rojas ’17, senior class president, spoke and Dominique Curtis ’17, senior class speaker, addressed the audience. View the entire 2017 Commencement Exercises.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz has dedicated his career to public service in the non-profit and government sectors. The first Pomona College graduate to become a U.S. Senator, Schatz was appointed in 2012 after the death of long-serving U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. In 2014, he was elected to complete the rest of Inouye’s term, and last year Schatz was re-elected to a full six-year term in the Senate with 70 percent of the vote. He serves on four Senate Committees: Appropriations; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Indian Affairs. In the Senate, Schatz is also chief deputy whip, a leadership position that gives him a greater role in shaping policy and communications for Senate Democrats.

A vocal environmental advocate, Schatz has been a leader on clean energy and has introduced legislation to reduce the effects of climate change while also moving the nation into a clean energy economy, creating jobs and lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil. 

Schatz has also served as lieutenant governor of Hawaii and for eight years he was the CEO of Helping Hands, one of the state’s largest non-profit community social services organizations.

He earned his B.A. in philosophy at Pomona and came back to campus in 2016 to lead a master class and presented a talk about climate change before a full Argue Auditorium at Millikan Laboratory.

Brian Schatz's speech [video].

Sarah C. R. Elgin

Educator and alumna Sarah C. R. Elgin is a recognized interdisciplinary researcher investigating gene regulation while simultaneously expanding the number of peers and students contributing to publishable science research. Elgin currently serves as the Viktor Hamburger Professor of Arts and Sciences, with appointments in biology, genetics and education at the Washington University in St. Louis.

Working with fruit flies, Elgin’s laboratory has made many seminal contributions to the study of epigenetics, the mechanisms by which the DNA in the cell nucleus is packaged to promote either gene expression or gene silencing.

A leader in science education, Elgin founded Washington University’s Science Outreach program (now Institute for School Partnership), which brings cutting edge science curriculum to thousands of K-12 public school students in the St. Louis area. With funding from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, she founded and directs the Genomics Education Partnership, involving undergraduate students at more than 100 colleges and universities in collaborative genomics research.

Elgin received her B.A. in chemistry from Pomona and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology. She and her husband Robert ’66 have two children, Benjamin (Harvey Mudd ’98) and Thomas ’05.

Sarah Elgin's speech [video].

Gay McDougall

Civil rights activist Gay McDougall is an international lawyer who has been instrumental in crafting human rights legislation for emerging democracies.

Engaged in human rights advocacy, litigation and training activities in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, McDougall is well-known for her work in South Africa.

Her contributions in ending apartheid were recognized in 2015 by the Government of South Africa with the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo, a national medal of honor for non-citizens.

A lifelong advocate for social justice, McDougall founded the Commission of Independence for Namibia, a bipartisan group of more than 30 Americans who monitored Namibia’s transition to independence. She has held several positions at the United Nations, serving on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which oversees implementation of the International Convention against Racial Discrimination worldwide.

A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in pursuit of global human rights, McDougall currently serves as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School and a member of the faculty of Oxford University’s International Human Rights Law Program.

McDougall earned her undergraduate degree from Bennington College, and received a J.D. from Yale Law School and a master of laws degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Gay McDougall's speech [video].

Rick and Susan Sontag '64

Rick and Susan Sontag have a long history of supporting their alma maters and The Claremont Colleges as a whole. They have spent a lifetime building successful businesses and actively supporting education and medical research. Their giving to The Claremont Colleges includes naming gifts to Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, LEED-awarded residence halls on both the Pomona and Harvey Mudd campuses, as well as significant gifts to expand undergraduate research. Rick is also an emeritus trustee at Harvey Mudd College.

After Susan's survival from brain cancer Rick and Susan redirected their resources to helping others affected by that disease.  Through The Sontag Foundation, The Brain Tumor Network and other activities they are now sponsoring medical advances and helping brain cancer patients find their way to more effective treatment.

Rick earned his B.S. in physics from Harvey Mudd College, an M.S. in physics from the University of Nevada at Reno and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Susan received her B.A. in government from Pomona College.

Rick and Susan Sontag's speech [video].