2024 CMC Commencement: Leadership, courage, and simple truths

Commencement 2024.

Photos by Anibal Ortiz and Isaiah Tulanda ’20

President Hiram E. Chodosh delivered the following Commencement remarks to the Class of 2024:

a prologue

Before our graduates walk across the threshold of past and future,

and as prologue to my charge,

I want to share a story,

from the break Priya and I took last fall.

(This Monday marks the 35th anniversary of our very first date, a characterization Priya would justifiably still deny.

I will never catch up to her uncontainable courage, loving enthusiasm, uncanny clairvoyance, and crazy ideas.

This was one of them:)

an off-the-grid, 16-day, no-turning-back, 225-mile trip

on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.


It’s Day 13, mile 177.

The sun has not lifted above the high canyon walls in anticipation of a midmorning eclipse.

Priya and I wake to the chilly canyon air,

cinch our packs,

sip our coffee in nervous anticipation.

I can’t handle breakfast.


Why are we so nervous? We are about to paddle down the most notorious rapid in North America: Lava.

8 people on a 14-foot rubber vessel.

Mile 179.2.

Difficulty rating, 10 out of 10.

In a span of 100 yards,

the canyon walls pinch in,

the elevation drops 37 feet.

The river spits through this faucet at 25 mph.

Lava rocks fill the river bed, creating hydraulic chaos.

Our paddle boat has a good chance of flipping.


Priya’s selected for a seat alongside the guide in the back.

Which means, if he goes over, she’s in charge!


I’m in the front left.

Which means, if I make a mistake,

fail to hear the guide’s call,

miscount the strokes,

forget that back right means front left,

we flip into the rocks.


This also means, I see everything coming at us.

I lean off the boat to get the most vertical angle for my strokes.

The only device holding me in the boat? Two rubber straps

over the area just below the joints of my toes.


We drift closer to Lava.

We hear it roar.


My brother once told me, life is like a white water rapid.

If you don’t have a plan, you end up in the rocks.

If you fail to change your plan, you end up in the rocks.

So, we tie off, climb up to scout the rapid, agree on our strategy.


We descend,


Put on our special solar shades,

stare in awe at the sky.

The moon blinds the sun

but does not eclipse our fear.


We’re back in the river now.

We aim for the tip of the rapid’s tongue.

We plan for two major drops.


We get through the first one.

The second wave is so big, the guide screams, down!

Our low center of gravity powers through.

The heavy wall of water

crashes over our backs.

I’m up again.

Our guide yells: forward 6!

I’m mad now.

I’m yelling at Lava.

Whad’ya got?!? Come on! Let’s go!


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On a day overflowing with gratitude and fortitude, Claremont McKenna College’s joyful Commencement ceremony celebrated the courage exemplified by the Class of 2024.

President Chodosh addressing graduates.


The May 11 ceremony brought together families and friends for the College’s 76th Commencement to hail the accomplishments of the nearly 350 graduates on a picture-perfect Southern California day.

In his opening address, CMC President Hiram E. Chodosh set the stage with an inspiring story about navigating and conquering challenges. Specifically, he recounted the details of a recent whitewater rapids trip, suggested by his wife, Priya Junnar. The “off-the-grid, 16-day, no-turning-back 225-mile trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon” put them on “the most notorious rapid in North America,” called Lava Falls.

“A difficulty rating of 10 out of 10,” President Chodosh said. “In the span of a hundred yards, the canyon walls pinch in, the elevation drops 37 feet. The river spits through this faucet at 25 miles an hour. Lava rocks fill the riverbed creating hydraulic chaos. Our paddle boat has a good chance of flipping.”

But eight people on a 14-foot rubber vessel prevailed—by working together.

“Fighting through the unpredictable waves, paddling through the formidable forces, navigating, surmounting the biggest challenges, building shared purpose, making Lava my friend. This is how I want to lead. This is how I want CMC to lead. This is how I want each of you to lead — through Lava.

“You’ve done it. Every splash, a new skill. Each climb, higher confidence. Every drop, deeper courage. Each threshold, stronger commitment.”

‘Mindful courage’

The invocation was shared by Rabbi Danny Lutz and Imam Dr. Hadi Qazwini, chaplains of The Claremont Colleges.

Rabbi Danny Lutz (left) and Imam Qazwini.

Rabbi Danny Lutz (left) and Imam Dr. Hadi Qazwini

Imam Dr. Qazwini acknowledged the continuing Israeli-Palestinian crisis, asking the community to commit themselves to awareness and to promoting peace, justice, and reconciliation. “Being agents of peace and justice is certainly not an easy task, especially in the midst of deep polarization. It requires mindful courage and courageous mindfulness,” Qazwini said.

Rabbi Lutz shared a series of questions from one of the earliest works of the rabbis, as well as a blessing from the Jewish tradition. “We are reminded to be open to everyone, even those with whom we disagree. We are reminded not to allow our passions to blind us to the face of the other, but to recognize and to honor their humanity and, most importantly, learn from them,” Lutz said.

Former Stags quarterback Zachary Fogel ’23 performed an encore from last year’s ceremony, returning to campus to lead the audience in the singing of the National Anthem, while Ellen Ketels, Associate Dean of the Faculty for Curriculum and Associate Professor of Literature, led the singing of CMC’s College Song, “Claremont McKenna.”

Bertha Junior Tobias ’24.

Bertha Junior Tobias ’24

When elected class speaker Bertha Junior Tobias ’24 took the podium, she encouraged her fellow graduates to recognize the “transformative power of simple truths” passed down by the generations before them. She shared a personal anecdote about arriving in Los Angeles from Namibia, a small country in southwestern Africa, with a crumpled note in her hand from her mother. It read: “Work hard. Be yourself. Do your best. Be kind. And make your bed.”

Although she was moved by the note’s sentiments, Tobias admitted she was skeptical. Her mother grew up in a small village in northern Namibia. “What did she know about making it in this land of milk and honey?”

But after earning a Rhodes Scholarship, Tobias thought back on her CMC experience and found that these simple truths from her mother were, in fact, the perfect foundation. “We have everything we need to survive inside of us. We learned it here. We learned it at home. … Our mothers were right. Wherever we find ourselves in the world, we cannot escape the transformative power of simple principles to serve as our true north.”

‘Harness your power’

D’Angelo Savion Brown ’24.

D’Angelo Savion Brown ’24

Senior Class President D’Angelo Savion Brown ’24 reflected on the resilience of his classmates, many who lost their high school graduations to the COVID-19 pandemic and entered college with more uncertainty than ever: “We have all walked an incredible journey together … we have emerged stronger, more united, and with a profound appreciation for the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Brown introduced the Commencement speaker, Cheryl Strayed, calling her “an extraordinary individual whose story epitomizes the power of resilience and the transformative nature of embarking on a journey of self-discovery.”

Strayed, the bestselling author of the memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, talked to the graduates about “virtues and values that lead to a meaningful and fulfilling life.” Her three primary wishes for the Class of 2024: Trust your clarity. Cultivate your courage. Harness your power for the betterment of your life, your community, and our world.

Commencement speaker and author Cheryl Strayed.

Cheryl Strayed

“I’m talking about the personal power that is born out of these foundational values that I’ve shared with you, of honesty and courage, integrity, resilience,” Strayed said. “I mean the kind of power that enables you to be a more humble, compassionate, generous, thoughtful citizen, community member, parent, friend, partner, co-worker, and human.”

‘Know where you want to go’

After her Commencement address, Strayed was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for her contributions and achievements as a prolific author and champion of equal opportunity. William Podlich ’66 GP’26 GP’28 and Rossi A. Russell ’71 also received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees for their leadership in business, education, and philanthropy.

Commencement 2024.

After the conferring of degrees and before his final charge, President Chodosh asked the audience to acknowledge the six absent scholar-leader-athletes, including Nikolina Batoshvili ’24, Sena Selby ’24, Audrey Yoon ’24, Julian Sanders ’24, Tyler Shaw ’24, and Pieter van Wingerden ’24, who were competing in championships and would be celebrated in a small ceremony the next day. (The Women’s Tennis team earned their way back to the NCAA Division III nationals, while CMS Baseball earned an at-large bid to the 2024 NCAA Division III Tournament.)

President Chodosh returned to the lessons of his whitewater rafting adventure, and on a final note of community, sent the graduates out into the world.

“Know we’re always with you. We’re forever here. Know where you want to go, we’re already there. Class of 2024, lead through Lava. That is your calling, that is your charge. Many congratulations. Cheers to you all!”

Relive the 2024 Commencement Ceremony through our highlights video below or find the full celebration on YouTube.

See images from around the Commencement tent here! Graduates will receive a link to a separate gallery for diploma and stage photos.




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