It will be a bittersweet graduation weekend for Mills College's Class of 2022 to be sure, as this will be the last undergraduate class of women to complete their studies at the school as we know it.
This Saturday will mark the final commencement ceremony for Oakland's Mills College as an independent women's college — the 134th in the college's history.
As previously reported, Mills is merging with Northeastern University, becoming a new campus for the Boston-based university, with the name living on as Mills College at Northeastern University. The merger, which takes full effect in July, comes after years of financial strain and budget deficits amid declining enrollment at the school, which is one of the last remaining women's colleges in California.
The survival of the 170-year-old college had been in jeopardy for several years when Mills President Elizabeth L. Hillman announced in March 2021 that the school would be shutting down as a degree-granting institution. At the time, the school said it would go on for another two academic years, accepting new students in the fall of 2021, and granting its last degrees in the spring of 2023.
Within three months, though, Northeastern University had stepped in with a merger offer, with the ability to keep the identity of the school partly intact as Mills College at Northeastern University, and allowing current Mills students to transfer to other Northeastern campuses.
"Our goal is to combine our two institutions so that, together, we can expand Mills’ core strengths, including advancing student access, women’s leadership, equity, and social justice," Hillman said at the time. "This new alliance would allow for continued conferral of degrees on the Mills campus with the Mills name as part of those degrees, enhanced support for Mills’ current students, faculty, and staff, and the future development of new educational programs."
After some in-fighting on the Mills College board, with some board members and the Mills Alumnae Association staunchly opposed to such a merger. Four board members and the alumnae association filed suit last summer to stop the merger, but the suit was ultimately thrown out in court, and Hillman referred to the delay as an "unfortunate sideshow."
The college's board of trustees ultimately approved the merger in September.
Under the agreement with Northeastern, faculty and staff from both institutions are expected to establish a Mills Institute "to carry on the Mills legacy of advancing women’s leadership and empowering BIPOC and first-generation students."
Saturday's commencement ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m. at Holmgren Meadow on the Mills College campus, and Berkeley-born two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward will deliver the commencement address.
Among those who are receiving honorary degrees at the ceremony is Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who is the first Black woman ever to be president of Oakland's City Council.