Four December graduates pose for a photo against a Wellesley logo backdrop.
Maimoonah Shafqat, Stella Gu, Ann Zhao, Eugenia Ma, and Elyse Rho (left-right) take photos during the December Finisher ceremony. “I am really going to miss the network of friends and mentors that Wellesley has helped me build,” said Zhao.
Image credit: Ahana Basu ’25

Celebrating the Class of 2023.5!

Aidan Reid ’24
December 18, 2023

“Tonight we celebrate your remarkable accomplishments and honor your years of effort, your persistence in the face of challenges, and all that you’ve done to transform this community,” said President Paula Johnson in her  remarks at the December 12 celebration for Wellesley students graduating this month. Most either had walked with the class of 2023 at commencement in May or will walk with the class of 2024 in the spring, but this special annual event acknowledges December finishers right when their Wellesley experience is ending. 

The graduates walked across the stage and heard remarks from deans, students, and President Johnson, and the event ended with a festive toast to the class. Ann Zhao ’24, a cognitive and linguistic sciences major and the author of the forthcoming novel Dear Wendy, completed her degree this month, and she greatly appreciated the December finishers event. “It would otherwise make graduating feel super anticlimactic. I’d just be submitting my last final with no fanfare,” said Zhao after the event. “I also appreciate knowing who else graduated in December. I’m glad it wasn’t just me and a few friends.”

“I loved how supportive everyone was of each other,” said Maimoonah Shafqat ’24, a December graduate who majored in economics with a minor in environmental studies. “Even though it was a small crowd, we all clapped and cheered, and that made it seem really special.”

The event for December finishers was the brainchild of Melissa Jo Zambrana ’15, who had to graduate a semester late due to a concussion. She walked across the stage in May 2015, but officially graduated that December. “As the end of the semester was coming up, I realized my time at Wellesley was going to end, and I was going to just pack up all of my stuff and leave campus,” she said prior to this year’s event. “I thought, I’m not the only person who’s going to experience this, where we graduate and there’s going to be no celebration, we will just leave.” 

Zambrana contacted the class deans to ask for some form of ceremony for her and her peers. Her request was granted, and the December finishers event has continued most years since. “It is a really nice way to recognize everybody’s achievement,” said Alison Black, dean of the class of 2024.

The celebration is a reminder that you accomplished something and you’re still connected to the Wellesley community.

Maimoonah Shafqat ’24

Zambrana, now assistant director of alumnae engagement at the Wellesley College Alumnae Association (WCAA), gave this year’s graduates advice about how to figure out what class year they belong to. “You don’t have to worry about your graduation year,” she said. “That was something that I was worried about. The students graduating can choose their year. They can choose whatever path they want to take forward.”

Over the last eight years, the event moved from the Schneider Reading Room to the President’s House, then online due to COVID, and finally to the Alumnae Ballroom. Black has fond memories of all the locations, especially the virtual celebration: “The attendance was awesome. People could invite family and friends from all over the world.” 

The event involves collaboration between many different offices, and it has been “embraced by other people around the College,” Black said, becoming even more important with each passing year.  

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the December finishers event is that it gives students a moment to pause and reflect on their time at Wellesley before moving onto whatever is next. “Graduating in December is bittersweet, since either most of your friends have probably left Wellesley or you are leaving early and having to say a premature goodbye,” said Shafqat after the ceremony. “The celebration is a reminder that you accomplished something and you’re still connected to the Wellesley community.”

“I am really going to miss the network of friends and mentors that Wellesley has helped me build,” said Zhao. “I haven’t had anything else quite like it, and I really think I’ve made some valuable lifelong relationships here, something I can't say about any other school I’ve gone to.” 

As Johnson said to the graduates, “Your talent, your ability, and your knowledge earned you a place at Wellesley, but it was really your courage, resilience, and perseverance that brought you to this moment, and pushed you to succeed. You are leaving Wellesley stronger, more experienced, and more compassionate.”