Graduating seniors already were on their feet applauding,
and faculty members were rising to join the morning's only standing ovation.
Then, as Colby's newest honorary doctor of humane letters waved his degree over
his head in celebration, wagging it like a football in the end zone, the
applause swelled with a cheer. It was the warmest tribute at Commencement this
year and it was reserved for honorary degree recipients Lewis Levine '21, and
his brother Percy '27, known to generations of Colbians simply as "Ludy and
Pacy." The platform antics by 96-year-old Ludy set the celebratory mood on May
28 as 458 members of the Class of 1995 prepared to march up to receive their
own diplomas from President William R. Cotter.
The seniors had a chance to sleep late during Senior Week, and Sunday's 9 a.m. line-up time was the first hint that the new beginnings implied in the term "commencement" had begun. On "the street," the long corridor through the basement of Miller Library where graduates queue, Lee Paprocki of Greenwich, N.Y., said, "When I woke up this morning, I thought, `Oooh, graduation,' and I just bolted. I am so psyched."
A few yards ahead, in the L's, All-American women's hammer thrower Brooke Lorenzen of Mercer Island, Wash., was present and waiting too, but her journey to Commencement morning was considerably more circuitous than Paprocki's. On Friday at 4 p.m. she left the NCAA Division III track and field meet awards ceremony in Minnesota after taking fourth place and breaking her own Colby record one last time. She and coach Debra Aitken made it home from the 10-hour trip at 2 a.m. Saturday, in time for all of Saturday's activities as well as the procession Sunday morning.
Paprocki, Lorenzen and their classmates assembled alphabetically behind Class Marshal James A. Porter of Waterville, Maine. Porter, a physics and classics major, graduated at the top of the class with a 4.05 grade point average, the first over 4.0 in recent memory, according to the Registrar's Office. Porter's achievement continued a Maine tradition; he was the 10th class marshal among the last 13 who came to Colby from a Maine hometown.
As the students waited downstairs, faculty members on the first floor fussed with their hats and academic regalia while Commencement speaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. and honorary degree recipients Ludy and Pacy Levine and Judith Isaacson prepped in the Robinson Room. Dean of Students Janice Kassman fretted over correct pronunciations of each senior's name.
A half hour or so later, out in the May sunshine, Matthew Metz, a chemistry-biochemistry major from Bethesda, Md., donned lab goggles to address Commencement as class speaker. "Most of the weekend is dedicated to parents," he said. "For the next five minutes or so I'm going to talk about us. Our parents can talk to us about getting jobs, going to graduate school and cleaning up all of our college junk for the entire car ride home, so I don't really need to mention that stuff."
Indeed, Metz kept his talk light. Noting that seniors predicted they would most miss their friends after graduation, he said, "Yeah, but they'll come visit--and we'll make some new friends!"
"While we're through satisfying teachers and coaches, we must now live up to an even greater expectation--that's our own," he concluded.
Gates, chair of the Afro-American studies department at Harvard University, told graduates that "finding yourself" is not a task that should end in adolescence or with graduation. "I'm uncomfortable with the notion of adulthood being founded on a static, laminated sense of self--the notion that finding yourself, that self-fashioning and re-fashioning, is another of those adolescent maladies, like acne, that you're supposed to outgrow."
"What if, instead," he asked, "we saw this kind of re-fashioning as one of the ethical tasks of our lives? So I don't say express yourself, as Madonna would have it; I say invent yourself. And don't restrict yourself to off-the-rack models. There isn't one way to be white or black, one way to be gay or straight, one way to be Hispanic or Asian, liberal or conservative, male or female."
Gates, whose most recent book is a memoir titled Colored People and who had an essay in the Sunday New York Times on the morning of Commencement, talked to graduates about finding their own identities in the context of "identity politics."
"I think those who complain that students today take too much interest in collective identities should be listened to, because, yes, dangers do lie that way. But I also think it's worth emphasizing that what the critic Greg Tate calls `white-boyism' is a collective identity, too. Too often, we speak as if race is something blacks have, sexual orientation is something gays and lesbians have, gender is something women have, ethnicity is something so-called `ethnics' have. And so, if you don't fall into any of these categories, you don't have to worry about any of these things.
"You can't just void collective identity like a canceled stamp," he said. "Just consider the resurgence of nationalism in the wake of the Soviet empire. . . . Who among us would have thought twenty years ago that when we spoke of ethnic violence in Georgia in nineteen-ninety-five, we would be speaking of a republic in the ex-Soviet Union and not some town down the road from Atlanta?
"Forging humane commonalities out of the crucible of our differences is always an ongoing effort rather than a task that can be finished and forgotten, like a senior essay. But when I think back to my own student days in the late sixties and early seventies, as bewitching and bewildering as they were, I'm filled with confidence about this class, your class, graduating twenty years later. And, really, the challenge I set before you this morning is not so very onerous. I don't ask that you get everything right," Gates concluded, "I just ask that you do a little bit better than we did."
Graduates got off on the right foot as their march to the platform to pick up diplomas combined pomp and ceremony, heartfelt gestures of appreciation to parents and mentors and celebratory high spirits.
To say "march" is to use the formal commencement terminology. Laura Iorio of Millis, Mass., wearing a baseball cap in place of the traditional mortarboard, did a little dance on her way up the steps to get her diploma. Reed Kelly from Yarmouth, Maine, who skipped both the cap and gown in favor of a plain dress, was joined by Will Romey, 4-year-old son of Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology William Romey. Will, wearing shorts, T-shirt and a humungous grin, walked hand-in-hand with his pal and favorite babysitter from the platform back to her seat. And David Berner of Davis, W.Va., won the alternative hat contest with a bright yellow firefighter's helmet. It wasn't to represent hard-headedness or a career choice, he said; "I just wanted to do something different. I figured I could look dorky in one of those [pointing at a mortarboard] or I could look dorky in this."
Basketball star Matthew Gaudet of Rumford, Maine, and record-setting football quarterback Matthew Mannering of Walpole, Mass., were among a dozen or more scholar-athletes who made short detours en route to their diplomas to shake hands with the Levine brothers. K.C. Lawler of West Hartford, Conn., who will spend next year teaching in Ghana, stopped to hug Associate Professor of English Phyllis Mannochi.
Kassman was on a roll, pronouncing "Dhumal Narendra Aturaliye" perfectly as the Sri Lankan stepped up with an immaculate white and gold Nehru kit under his robe. She momentarily bobbled "Jill Tara Kooyoomjian" of Southboro, Mass., but breezed right through "Agnieszka Swiontkowska" of Lisbon, Maine. (Official minutes of the semester's final faculty meeting read: "Dean Kassman stated that her mis- pronunciation of certain foreign names during Commencement was deliberate, conforming to the requests of the students.") Kassman had to think fast when Jonathan Bowden of Summit, N.J., leaned into her microphone on his way past and added a (bogus) "cum laude" after his name. "I think it was summa cum laude, Jonathan," Kassman chided.
A light airplane circled the campus towing a banner that proclaimed, "Congratulations Shake!" reportedly for Sean McBride of Wellesley, Mass., who declined comment. Finally, as Lisa Marie Zorn of Wolcott, Conn., carried the final diploma of the day down the steps, a beach ball appeared in the seniors' section and bounced around among them and in and out of the faculty section a couple of times as President Cotter read the Latin message to new degree recipients. (The beach ball, which later appeared on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw's annual national commencement round-up on June 8, was confiscated by Student Activities Director Ben Jorgensen '92.) Video services coordinator Paul Gregoire '71 had to cover the video recording equipment when a spray of champagne threatened to douse his lens as mortarboards flew aloft in the traditional celebration.
As the convocation broke up, graduates and their families stopped for photographs in front of blossoming fruit trees or with the library tower in the background. Robert Barton '45 and his wife, Erma, of Jensen Beach, Fla., didn't know any of the graduates but said they had come "because it's such a nice ceremony." Members of the Portland Brass Quintet, lips circled with red, played the recessional march, Die Bankelsanger-lieder, for about 15 minutes as families slowly migrated to the chapel lawn for the president's reception. By 2:30 p.m. chairs and litter were cleaned up and all that remained was the platform--and thousands of memories.
One impressed staff member attending his first Colby Commencement said, "It's everything that a commencement is supposed to be."
Five years ago, a few months before her son, Chad Tyson '95, entered Colby,
Tyson-Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two surgeries and months of
chemotherapy later, she was well but changed. And so was her son.
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