Former Carter administration Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Patricia Roberts Harris delivered the 1981 commencement address. United States Ambassador to Luxembourg in the Johnson administration—the first African-American woman to serve as an ambassador—Harris spoke about the Reagan administration's cuts to social programs saying, “It appears we have abandoned the War on Poverty in order to prepare for a War on People.... Instead of being an example to the world of democracy’s ability to be strong and humane,” Harris observed,” we now say we cannot afford a humanitarian government if we are to protect ourselves.”

Retiring Chair of the Board of Trustees Mary St. John Villard ’34 also spoke at the college's 115th Commencement.