Alumni Jennifer Doudna PO ’85, Stewart Smith PO ’68 announced as Pomona commencement speakers

The picture is split in half. One one side, a man wearing a blue and pinked striped tie holds a blue coat over his shoulder and smiles at the camera. On the other side, a woman with short blond hair wearing a red shirt and black blazer smiles at the camera.
Stewart Smith PO ’68 (left) and Jennifer Doudna PO ’85 (right) will speak at the Pomona College class of 2022’s in-person commencement ceremony this May. (Courtesy: Pomona College)

Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna PO ’85 and Kinsmith Financial Corporation CEO Stewart Smith PO ’68 will speak at the Pomona College class of 2022’s commencement ceremony, Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr announced to students via email Feb. 15.

Doudna was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the genome-editing potential of the CRISPR/Cas9 enzyme, becoming the first Pomona graduate to earn Nobel honors.

Smith served on Pomona’s Board of Trustees for over 30 years and as chair of the board for nine, overseeing the selection of Pomona’s eighth and ninth presidents and the construction of the Smith Campus Center, which bears his family’s name.

Smith was “instrumental to the development of the College,” Pomona spokesperson Patricia Vest said via email.

Smith also served as the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens for 10 years.

Doudna and Smith were selected by a committee of trustees, faculty members and student leaders. The committee looks for speakers who “reflect and exemplify the College’s values … based on their contributions either to academic life or through social and civic contributions to society,” Vest said.

ASPC Vice President of Student Affairs Gerardo Rodriguez PO ’22 learned about Doudna in a biology class he took at Pomona and was “very excited” to hear that she had been selected as a speaker.

“I focus more on Latin American politics and international policy now, but even then I [felt] closely tied to an alumni member who is doing phenomenal work and is the first [alumnus] to ever receive the [Nobel] Prize,” he said.

ASPC President Nirali Devgan PO ’22 appreciated that Doudna was confirmed as a speaker just a year and a half after she won her Nobel Prize. “I’m really glad and surprised that [the college] was able to pull that off,” she said.

Devgan also said that Smith, whose father, son and daughter all attended Pomona, would bring students’ attention to the generational contributions to Pomona that they might not usually think about. 

“[Smith] seems to have contributed to pretty pivotal parts of our lives here, so I’m definitely interested in what he has to say,” she said.

Devgan said that she would like to see the commencement speakers acknowledge the hardship many students faced to get their degrees during the pandemic.

“Commencement is a big deal for so many people. So many first generation, low income students, they’ll be the first in their family [to graduate]. Even for someone like me, whose parents both went to school in the United States, it’s a big deal to be part of the group walking across getting my degree,” she said.

ASPC Senior Class President Andreah Pierre PO ’22 is the only student who is part of this year’s selection committee. In addition to helping select speakers for future commencement ceremonies, Pierre herself will speak at this year’s commencement ceremony and organize a vote for one other student who will speak at the ceremony.

Pierre hasn’t started writing her speech yet, but intends to highlight the accomplishments and growth of the senior class.

“‘We’re still graduating on time, and we still made it to where we needed to be even through a freaking pandemic’ … things like that, keeping it light,” she said.

The commencement ceremony for the class of 2022, set to take place on May 15, will be the first fully in-person ceremony in three years, as ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 were forced online due to COVID-19. The college is also hosting a “Take Two” celebration for the pandemic’s graduates the weekend of May 20. 

After the uncertainty of the last three years and the stress of writing senior theses and hunting for jobs, “we’re all just grateful for actually being back and having a graduation,” Rodriguez said.

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