Class of 2016 Graduates with Message of Hope, Diversity and Responsibility from Speaker Alexis Herman

Beneath a perfect muse blue sky on May 14, 2016, 189 Agnes Scott College scholars received their diplomas and entered their next phase of thinking deeply, living honorably and engaging the intellectual and social challenges of their time. The diverse class of 2016, ranging in age from 20 to 55 and hailing from 28 states and six countries, left their mark on Agnes Scott by sharing their passion for the arts and sciences, athletics, social justice, diversity and the environment.

A remarkable 58 percent of the class participated in study abroad, including experiences in France, Brazil, China, Costa Rica and New Zealand, among other countries, and 67 percent of students completed internships at organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MARTA, Zoo Atlanta, The Bert Show and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Members of the class will continue their education in master’s, Ph.D., law and medical programs at institutions including Emory, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Morehouse, Mercer and Georgia State. Other graduates will launch careers at organizations such as IBM, Georgia-Pacific, Ernst & Young, Disney and Agnes Scott.

“You have spoken up for your beliefs and wrestled with issues of race, class, religion, gender and justice, and one third of you have participated in diversity programs like Think Live Engage,” said President Elizabeth Kiss in her opening remarks. “You have had remarkable experiences and weathered challenges and difficulties… you have gained strength, knowledge and inspiration for your futures.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman provided further inspiration for the class and their loved ones during her commencement address. She built upon the college motto with her own three tips for those entering today's labor market: ’”Stay informed, stay connected and stay encouraged!"

As the first African American Secretary of Labor, Herman, who took office during Bill Clinton’s second presidential term, has made a career of championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

“You have to do your part to bring down barriers of intolerance, barriers of discrimination, wherever you may meet them, because that is what is going to be required today if we are going to be called true citizens of this global community,” Herman said. “It’s a very small but complex world today, and we have to know what it means to live as brothers and sisters, as one. Dr. King always reminded us, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ So the ability to keep that banner high is on your shoulders now."

"You understand what it means to know other cultures, to know other languages and understand what it means to live in the world community,” she added. "Continue to build on that knowledge."

Herman’s legacy of fighting workplace injustice began as the founder of the Minority Women’s Improvement Program, where she worked to place the first women ever in Atlanta white collar jobs at organizations such as Coca-Cola Company, Delta Airlines and Georgia Power. 

“While these women pioneers had issues and the struggles of their day, more than 30 years later, you graduate into a world and economy that is very different than what they experienced many years ago,” Herman said. “Today’s economy is truly powered by knowledge, fueled by technology, and is truly a global economy.”

Herman spoke about the importance, especially for women and people of color, of connecting with positive role models who will bolster self-confidence. 

“Anxieties and insecurities come from taking risks,” she said. “I was born to a single mom who went back to school when I was just three years of age. She instilled in me a belief to have real confidence in myself and the power of education, and she taught me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. Listen to your hearts, lead with your souls, and follow your dreams. If you do this and march always to the beat of justice, you will not only have climbed the ladder of success, you will have made the singular difference."