At approximately 3:15 p.m. on May 26, Brittney Bell ’13 walked across the stage in Wadsworth Gymnasium. It was her second finish line in 18 hours.
The previous night, Bell, from Poland, Maine, ran the anchor leg for the Colby women’s 1,600-meter relay team at the NCAA Division III championships in La Crosse, Wis. Bell and her teammates, Emily Doyle ’16, Frances Onyilagha ’14, and Emily Tolman ’16, placed second in the country, just behind host school Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Two weeks before, Bell thought she’d have to make a difficult decision: run in Wisconsin or march with her classmates at the 10 a.m. commencement. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college, to go to college, so I knew it was really important to my family,” said Bell, a biology major. “When we found out [the race] was at 6:20 in Wisconsin, I cried.”
But Colby administrators made sure Bell could do both. When Emily Hackert, assistant track and field coach, approached Assistant Dean of Faculty Jim Sloat with the Bell dilemma, he didn’t hesitate. “I knew as soon as the request came in, this was exactly the kind of thing that we’d do,” Sloat said.
Bell flew from Chicago to Portland Sunday morning, arriving on campus at 1:30 p.m.—shortly after the big commencement ceremony concluded. A little more than an hour later, surrounded by family, friends and teammates, she took a seat in the front row in front of the stage in Wadsworth Gymnasium. Harold Alfond Director of Athletics Marcella Zalot spoke, followed by Associate Professor of Biology Judy Stone, one of Bell’s favorite teachers.
Then Sloat presented the candidate for graduation.
“Brittney Nicole Bell,” Sloat said. His voice echoed through the nearly empty gym, and Bell walked across the stage and received her diploma from Lori Kletzer, Colby’s dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs.
To polite applause, Brittney Bell ended her college career with a smile, as an All-American track athlete and the first in her family to earn a college degree. “It’s unbelievable,” said Brittney’s mother, Nancy Bell. “We are still stunned. This whole event that they threw for my daughter.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Waterville Morning Sentinel.