group of joyful Mills College graduates in traditional caps and gowns

Congratulations to the Class of 2022!

2022 Mills College Commencement

Saturday, May 14, 2022
Holmgren Meadow
9:45 am–12:00 pm PDT

Watch the Live Webcast

The 134th Commencement at Mills College will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2022. With this ceremony, the College recognizes the achievements of its students and confers upon them the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a Mills degree. The dignity and customs of this historic ceremony are rooted in medieval times, when colleges and universities developed methods and standards for marking progress in knowledge and professionalism.

In keeping with this tradition, the Mills Commencement ceremony will begin on Holmgren Meadow promptly at 9:45 am with an academic procession of Mills graduating students, alumnae, faculty, Trustees, the President's Cabinet, and honored guests, and end at approximately 12:00 pm. Mills is requiring that all graduates, guests, and attendees wear masks so that we can welcome safely as many people as possible to Commencement. The program will include remarks by Mills President Elizabeth L. Hillman, the Commencement address to the Class of 2022, student speakers, and the conferring of degrees.

The traditional farewell reception for our new graduates, family, alumnae, faculty, and guests will be held on the lawn adjacent to the Betty Irene Moore Natural Sciences Building immediately following the Commencement ceremony.

2022 Commencement Speaker: Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward

MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient and two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward has been hailed as the standout writer of her generation, proving her “fearless and toughly lyrical” voice in novels, memoir, and nonfiction. Betsy Burton of the American Booksellers Association has called her “the new Toni Morrison.” In 2017, she became the first woman and the first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction—joining the ranks of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth, and John Updike.

Ward’s stories are largely set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Ward was forced to evacuate her rapidly flooding home. Her writing is deeply informed by the trauma of Katrina, not to mention its unimaginable social and economic repercussions. Her novel Salvage the Bones, winner of the 2011 National Book Award, is a troubling but ultimately empowering tale of familial bonds set amid the chaos of the hurricane. Likewise, Ward’s debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, depicts what Publishers Weekly calls “a world full of despair but not devoid of hope” in the aftermath of natural disaster.

A singular Southern odyssey that strikes at the heart of life in the rural South, Sing, Unburied, Sing, earned Ward a second National Book Award in 2017. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel through Mississippi’s past and present that explores the bonds of a family tested by racism and poverty. Margaret Atwood called it a “wrenching new novel…[that] digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must!” Sing was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2017 by The New York Times and Time. The Washington Post and Publisher’s Weekly also called Sing one of the year’s best books, and the novel nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize.

Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, delves into the five years of Ward’s life in which she lost five young men—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that follows poor people and people of color. Lauded by Kirkus Reviews as a “modern rejoinder to Black Like Me [and] Beloved,” Men We Reaped is a beautiful and painful homage to Ward’s ghosts and the haunted yet hopeful place she calls home. Men We Reaped won the Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

She is the also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, which NPR named one of the Best Books of 2016. Taking James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping-off point, this groundbreaking collection features essays and poems about race from the most important voices of our time—including Edwidge Danticat, Natasha Trethewey, Isabel Wilkerson, Mitchell S. Jackson, Kiese Laymon, and Claudia Rankine.

In her talks, Ward shares her writing process and how her experiences growing up poor and Black in the South continue to influence her work. Ward’s latest book, Navigate Your Stars, is an adaptation of her 2018 Tulane University Commencement speech that champions the value of hard work and the importance of respect for oneself and others. As she said in her acceptance speech at the 2011 National Book Awards, “I understood that I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor, and the Black and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important, as theirs.”

Ward is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans where she teaches creative writing. In 2016, she won the Strauss Living award, given every five years by the American Academy of Arts & Letters for literary excellence. In 2017, she was recognized with a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for her work “exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African-Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential.” In 2018, she was recognized among Time‘s 100 Most Influential People.

Ward received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood Awards for her fiction, essays, and drama. She held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and served as the Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. A member of Black Artists for Freedom and a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, she is at work on two additional new books: a novel for adults set in New Orleans at the height of the American slave trade, and a young adult novel about a Black girl from the South with supernatural powers.

Directions to Mills

Mills College | 5000 MacArthur Blvd. | Oakland, CA 94613

Helpful Links

Questions?

If you have questions regarding Commencement, contact Annie Labe, director of college events, at alabe@mills.edu or 510.430.2145, unless you previously have been directed to a contact in another Mills department.