Smith College grads seek to honor late classmate

  • Submitted PhotoFriends of Courtney Carton brought this poster to a thesis breakfast in June. “Courtney was on her way to finishing her thesis before she died. We wanted to bring her to the celebration space,” said Amee Catalano. Two Smith College graduate students are working with its School of Social Work to honor Carton who died before she was able to complete her master’s program.

For The Recorder
Saturday, August 12, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Two Smith College graduate students are working with its School of Social Work to honor a classmate who died before she was able to complete her master’s program.

Courtney Ann Carton of Winchendon, who was working toward a degree in social work, died in June from complications of Type 1 insulin-dependent juvenile diabetes.

Her friends Amee Catalano, 26, and Rachel Rodriguez, 25, petitioned the college earlier this week to award Carton the degree. As of Thursday, the petition had 487 signatures from students, alumni, family and friends.

However, Catalano and Rodriguez are now meeting with the school to think of other ways to honor Carton at the Aug. 18 commencement ceremony, because Smith College lacks a posthumous degree policy, an established process for awarding degrees to students after they’ve died.

“We really just want to support the family at this point,” Catalano said. “I would like to see her receive an honorary degree or certificate, but we want to meet with the school to find out what is and what isn’t possible.”

Carton was in her final year in the graduate program and had completed two-thirds of the requirements for her degree.

“Courtney was an excellent student,” Catalano said. “She really excelled.”

The social work master’s program at Smith College is very challenging, Rodriguez said. The program requires students to take classes during the summer and complete 30 hours of fieldwork each week during the school year.

“Courtney went through all of that with us,” Rodriguez said. “She died very suddenly before she could complete it, so we want to acknowledge all the accomplishments she made so far.”

Carton wanted to work with emotionally abused children, work that she began during an internship at YOU Inc. in Gardner.

“She was an excellent social worker, and people feel that she needs to be recognized,” Rodriguez said.

Catalano and Rodriguez have met with dean Marianne Yoshioka, who told them that Smith College has not historically granted posthumous degrees and has no policy for doing so.

In a statement, Yoshioka explained that there is no pathway for the college to award a degree to a student other than through a certification process.

Each year, faculty members of a degree program review a list from the registrar’s office of students eligible to graduate. The list includes students who have met the requirements stated by the degree program. The faculty then forwards the list to the board of trustees with a recommendation for graduation.

“This is not a statement of a student’s worth or respect but a certification process for work completed,” Yoshioka said in the statement.

Yoshioka said she will work with Catalano and Rodriguez to explore short-term alternatives for recognizing Carton and her achievements at the commencement ceremony. The dean said she will continue to find long-term alternatives with the School for Social Work faculty.

“Together with the college and president, we will honor Courtney at commencement next week, in several different ways,” she added.

Yoshioka said she and the faculty acknowledge that those advocating on behalf of Carton are doing so out of love and respect for her.

“We also recognize the number of our community members who support her receiving a degree,” Yoshioka said. “This love and compassion are what make our community great.”

Awarding the degree would align perfectly with the ethics of the School of Social Work, Catalano said.

A social worker’s code of ethics focuses on core values, including service, social justice, importance of human relationships and integrity. These are reason enough to give Carton a degree, according to the petition.

“We feel really strongly about this, and we are doing everything in our power to recognize her the way she deserves to be recognized,” Rodriguez said.

Carton’s family has set up an endowed scholarship in her name. The Courtney Carton Memorial Scholarship will be for aspiring social workers who have overcome health challenges.

Andy Carton, Courtney’s brother, said she chose a career in social work after overcoming physical and emotional hardship. That was a really extraordinary thing, he said.

“The world was robbed of a great social worker,” Andy said. “She was going to be a great social worker. Her supervisors said so, her teachers said so. We wanted to make it easier for people to carry on that legacy.”