Simon Rock Commencement Celebrates the 53rd Class of College’s First Graduates

Bard College at Simon Rock 2022 Graduates Lillian Steinmeier and Cathy Zhang Graduation Ceremony spokesperson Ben Dobson, on May 21, 2022. Photo: Sarah Kenyon/Studio Route 7

Great Wellington Bard College at Simon Rock—the nation’s first private residential college early on—graduated class 53 under the blazing sun this past Saturday, May 21, outside the building named for its founder, Elizabeth Blodgett Hall. Ninety-five students have earned associate degrees, and 45 students have earned a Bachelor of Arts degree; 33 of the total graduates were international students, and 13 were from Berkshire or the District of Columbia. A significant minority of students and families chose to participate in a live broadcast of the event rather than attend in person.

Local environmental entrepreneur Ben Dobson, a 2000 Simon Rock alumnus and local environmental entrepreneur, was the featured speaker for the school’s first personal launch in three years. The event also featured speeches by student leaders Cathy Zhang, of Shanghai, China, and Lilian Abigail Steinmeier, of Gouchen, Connecticut, as well as longtime Bard College president Leon Buchstein.

His family is “too cold,” Dobson said in a pre-graduation interview. His sister Freya is also a “Rocker”, and his sister Melanie is a Bard graduate. In his speech he praised graduates for increasingly abandoning materialistic values, and for clearly critical thinking about the pros and cons of technology. It also gave them glory for their refusal to ignore the roots of injustice. You work to demolish the class structures responsible for disinformation, racism, climate chaos, hunger and social unrest. I encourage you all not to view those issues as separate issues, but to view them as being within the context of the class structure that we need to address as a society.” He received an especially warm applause in response to this comment.

Ben Dobson, Simon Rock alumnus and local environmental entrepreneur, speaks to Simon Rock’s class of 2022. Photo: Sarah Kenyon/Studio Route 7

The goals of Hudson Carbon, Dobson’s public benefit company, are to “motivate people not only to conserve their land, but also to create financial incentives for them to manage the land to achieve positive environmental and climate outcomes.” They work with local projects such as Scenic Hudson and national organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and with, among other efforts, a large farm in Mexico. Two Simon Rock Professors in particular, Donald Roeder and Bob Schmidt, are credited with serving pivotal roles in his education and future career path. Along with several other speakers during the ceremony, Dobson choked when he spoke about the impact these mentors had on his life.

The recent death of science and mathematics professor Harold Hastings has been called up several times by administrators, faculty, and students. The beloved mentor died just two weeks ago, having attended a faculty meeting remotely from his hospital bed, his loss evidently still fresh, and I felt deeply.

Bard College President Leon Buchstein speaks at Simon Rock’s commencement ceremony on May 21, 2022. Photo: Sarah Kenyon/Studio Route 7

In a wide-ranging speech, President Botstein touched upon the imperatives and responsibilities of a liberal arts education. In the wake of the pandemic, he said, “Reshaping democracy, making it better than it has ever been, is harder than we think. There is a tension between developing ourselves as an individual, and developing not only a sense of community, but collective well-being.”

The role of the university, he went on, was to discern the truth “to broaden the degree of certainty we might have about the important things, and to develop a conversation, if you will, about how we might reach agreement, or we might get it to agree to disagree.” As a foil to the truth, I hold back the way Americans have told ourselves our history for generations. “Our relationship with the aborigines, our relationship with slavery, was a distortion, and it must be discussed and corrected.”

In a reminder that the pandemic is no longer behind us, many students have chosen to receive their diplomas while wearing face masks. It was also played with caution by proud father Solé Pradatta and his wife, who had just arrived in town the day after a 27-hour flight from their home in Jakarta, Indonesia, to see their daughter Raita Amanadevi Pradatta earn an associate’s degree. She, along with all the other Simon Rock students in the fall of 2020, started her distance education – just before her 15th birthday – and didn’t come to campus until six months later.

The Pradata family celebrates daughter Raita for receiving a college degree from Simon Rock at the 2022 college commencement ceremony. Photo: Sheila Clary

Her parents did not know anything about the school. Rayta learned about this through an email she received based on her SAT scores. “She told us, ‘Dad, mom, this sounds like a potential school to me, because I want a chance to go as soon as possible to college. “According to the tradition of the Rockers before her, Rita, at a tender age of barely 17 years old, has already identified her areas of interest and cleared her educational path. She will double her major in Physics and Mathematics while continuing her education at Simon Rock and obtaining her BA, after which she intends to remain in the States United for a Ph.D.

She has not returned to Indonesia for over 18 months and is not sure when she will return there again. “It’s a challenge,” Saleh admitted, giving up his only child for so long, but is grateful that Rayta will be staying in Great Barrington at Simon Rock summer campus, where she will participate in remote training through NASA and Catholic University. For now, the family will spend a few weeks together in New England, before mom and dad separate from the young, self-directed researcher again.

When they do, Dad will have no worries. “This is a great place,” he said.

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