Opening Up a Tradition: Graduation Ceremony to be Translated in Spanish, Mandarin

With all the graduation ceremonies and open houses I’ve been invited to I thought this article was appropriate. Interpretation is changing the world, making it more accessible to more people.

 A scene from last year’s 136th Commencement at Smith.

Published April 21, 2015

Do you know how to say “Congratulations, Class of 2015” in Mandarin—or Spanish?

For the first time, guests attending Smith College’s 2015 graduation will be able to hear the ceremony in Spanish or Mandarin, thanks to a new simultaneous translation service. So far, more than 130 people have signed up to use the service—80 in Mandarin and 50 in Spanish.

How does it work? On Commencement Day (Sunday, May 17—not that we’re counting the days or anything), guests who’ve registered for the service will drop off their I.D. and pick up a headset from a special table near the entrance to the Quad.

During the ceremony, interpreters from a professional service—Boston-based Interpreters Associates, Inc.—will provide live translation of the remarks, speeches and other narrative portions of the ceremony. Guests with headsets will hear the remarks live, as they happen—in Mandarin or Spanish—over the air, through their headset.

After the ceremony, guests will return the headset and get their I.D. back.

The college is covering the cost of the service; there is no charge to guests.

Dara Chen ’15, a double major in economics and math from the Bronx, N.Y., learned about the new initiative in the fall and signed up for her grandmother, Chung-Ching Yeh. The 86-year-old, who lives in the Bronx, speaks and understands English, Chen explained, but Mandarin is her native language. “This will make the ceremony more accessible to her,” Chen said, “and easier to understand.”

Chen noted that even students who haven’t signed up for the service are excited about the new program.

College Relations Director Sam Masinter, who organizes Commencement, agrees.

“Smith students come to Smith from all over the world,” he noted. “Their families are critical to our students’ success, and we want to make sure that they can fully experience the richness of Smith’s graduation.”

This year’s program is a pilot, Masinter said, and Mandarin and Spanish were the two languages chosen for translation by this year’s graduating class.

And so, with 26 days to go to before May 17,  Enhorabuena, los miembros de la clase de 2015, and 恭喜2015年畢業生!  We’re wishing you a very happy Commencement!

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