By Emily Glory Peters
Fellow Scripps alumnae have described the late Tamara Smiley Hamilton ’74 as untiring, inspired, loving, and funny—“a woman who gave her whole being” to what she believed in.
Hamilton described herself as a reflection of “living history.”
“I’m a 65-year-old African American grandmother who can fill in the blanks of contemporary history, living history,” she wrote in 2018. From her firsthand experience of the Watts riots in the 1960s to the rise of Black feminism during her Scripps years, Hamilton’s experiences equipped her to “take on tough issues and gave [her] the foundation to work towards racial peace.”
Born in segregated Alabama, the Great Migration brought Hamilton’s family to Watts in the 1950s, and she embraced her identity as an Angeleno. She was the first in her family to graduate from college as well as one of Scripps’ first students to obtain a degree in Black studies, and her impressive post-graduate journey included three master’s degrees, senior leadership positions in higher education, establishing a conflict resolution coaching company, and becoming the first Black woman to achieve Toastmasters’ highest professional credential of Accredited Speaker.
Hamilton’s sudden death in November 2020 came as a shock to many, including her friends at Scripps. Alums including Victoria “Vik” Sheldon ’79 and Merrilee Howard ’70 were among those grieved not to be able to celebrate her life together due to COVID-19 restrictions—but they soon found other ways to honor her.
“A [Camp Scripps] Campership fund in Tamara’s memory was quickly set up with donations benefiting future alumnae attendees,” Howard explains, noting Hamilton’s many contributions to past Camp events. “Then, with permission from her family, the Tamara Smiley Hamilton ’74 Scholarship was set up to provide annual support for first-generation Black students like Tamara.”
Through letter-writing campaigns and partnerships with committees, Howard soon mobilized her fellow alums to contribute to the scholarship fund. Supporting students in this way was also a personal matter for Howard and Sheldon, who both received scholarships to help make their own studies at Scripps possible. Especially given Hamilton’s lifelong pursuit of education and devotion to expanding inclusivity and access for people of color, grants in her name seemed a fitting tribute.
“I can’t remember anyone so funny, honest, and alive. Through Camp Scripps, I learned about her extraordinary achievements and how rare it was for a first-generation woman of color to attend Scripps. She was driven to heal divisions and make the world a better place—I was just one of her many, many fans,” says Sheldon. “And as a recipient of a scholarship from an individual donor during my time at the College, I wanted to do the same for someone else—to help Tamara’s spirit and legacy live on in some small way.”
Adds Howard, “Tamara was a teacher, a conflict resolution facilitator, and a personal coach who gave back generously to many, including the Scripps community. Whether you knew Tamara or only knew of her, we encourage anyone and everyone to give to this fund.”
Scripps’ upcoming Day of Giving on March 24 will spotlight scholarship aid, which is critical to extending the Scripps experience to a broader range of extraordinary students, including first-generation and students of color. To make a gift to scholarships or to support Hamilton’s fund, please click here.