Deborah Bial, the founder of the Posse Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing college access, will be the principal speaker at Pomona College’s One Hundred Twenty-Third Commencement when Pomona’s class of 2016 will walk across the stage on Marston Quad to receive their hard-earned diplomas.
In addition to Bial’s keynote address, the ceremony will feature shorter speeches from honorary degree recipients Vikram Chandra PO ’84, an Indian-American novelist, and Helen Pahgian PO ’56, a Pasadena artist associated with the Light and Space art movement of the 1960s.
The Honorary Degree Committee–which includes a trustee chair, Pomona’s junior and senior student representatives, and faculty members–recommended the three speakers from a long list of nominees submitted throughout the year. These selections were subsequently approved by the Board of Trustees and a senior faculty committee.
The choice of Bial as principal speaker suggests a focus on inclusivness in higher education. The Posse Foundation is a nonprofit organization that partners with universities nationwide to send a group of high school students from the same city to each university yearly. This group, called a “posse,” is made up of 10 to 12 students who might otherwise be overlooked by the traditional application process.
As founder of the Posse Foundation, Bial’s professional focus is on access to education, a subject that may be particularly relevant this year, following events in the fall semester that brought issues of identity and diversity in education to the forefront of campus discussions. Demonstrations across the Claremont Colleges addressed the need for representation and access to resources in institutions of higher education.
Even before the events of last semester, Posse has long been an important cornerstone of Pomona’s institutional effort to address the matter of diversity on campus. Every year, Pomona welcomes 10 students from Chicago through Posse and has this year accepted a new Posse from Miami.
Members of this year’s graduating Posse Chicago were enthusiastic about the announcement of the choice of Bial as the principal speaker and noted the importance of Posse in the big picture of campus culture.
“I think it’s super exciting,” Brenda Benitez PO ’16 said, a current Posse senior. “Especially now that people are talking more about diversity on Pomona’s campus, I think Posse is one of the few organizations that truly enables inclusion. It not only brings in diverse students but also allows them to be fully themselves.”
Posse members are confident that Bial’s words will resonate beyond the 10 members of Posse set to graduate this spring. Though many students may not be as familiar with Posse’s mission, the issues the foundation addresses reach beyond the students directly involved with the program. Another member of the senior Posse, Hannah Doruelo PO ’16, is confident that her classmates will find meaning in the organization’s message. She believes many students will identify with the obstacles Posse endeavors to help students overcome in the pursuit of higher education.
“To have that be such a visible aspect of our graduation ceremony, I think, celebrates the communities and the people and families and individuals who come to Pomona and don’t see themselves as part of this institution,” Doruelo said. “But we are, we are as much Pomona as the stereotypical Pomona student.”