Colby College’s 183rd commencement provided a poignant mix of sadness and celebration on Sunday as families, friends and faculty hailed 484 members of the Class of 2004 and mourned the loss of one, Dawn Marie Rossignol, murdered last September in the fall of her senior year. President William D. Adams read a citation and presented a posthumous honorary bachelor of arts degree to Dawn’s parents, Charleen and Emilio Rossignol of Medway, Maine, as somber faculty members, classmates and guests listened, some mopping tears, some sobbing audibly.
“The Class of 2004, forever diminished by your absence, is nevertheless blessed to have called you its own,” President Adams said in his citation addressed to Dawn Rossignol. The mood remained more subdued than usual as graduates crossed the stage one by one, receiving degrees from Adams in the Alfond Athletic Center, where the ceremony was moved because of rain.
Before the presentation to the Rossignols, Adams presented honorary doctorates to five distinguished individuals: Shelby Davis, the founder of the Davis Selected Advisers, L.P., and sponsor of the Davis United World Scholars scholarship program; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Barry Mazur, university professor at Harvard and a renowned mathematician; Bernice Johnson Reagon, historian and founder of the vocal ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock; and Richard Russo, author, Colby professor and father of Kate Russo, who graduated from Colby Sunday.
Russo delivered the commencement address, which included “Russo’s Rules For A Good Life,” which he called “four simple, deeply flawed rules to live by.”
“Rule number one: Search out the kind of work that you would gladly do for free and then get somebody to pay you for it.” Explaining the first rule he said, “While you search for this work, you’ll need a job.”
“Rule number two: Find a loving mate to share what life has in store, because the world can be a lonely place, and people who aren’t lonely don’t want to hear about it if you are.” to which Russo added, “After 30 years, my wife Barbara and I continue to delight in each other’s company, and that’s astonishing given the number of other people we’ve grown weary of.”
“Rule number three: Have children. After what you’ve put your parents through, you deserve children of your own.”
“Rule number four: If you have one, nurture your sense of humor.” Russo said, “in an age as numbingly earnest as this one, where we’re more often urged to be sensitive than just, where genuinely independent thought is equally unwelcome to fundamentalists on both the left and the right, it’s laughter that keeps us sane. Indeed, the inability to laugh, at the world and at ourselves, is a sign, at least to my way of thinking, of mental illness.”
The first student in line to receive a bachelor’s of arts degree was the class marshal and valedictorian, Justin Juskewitch of Mercer, Maine.
The class speaker, elected by her peers, was Kate Chuprevich of Monmouth, Maine. “It seems I blinked and college is over,” she said. “Friends will be more than just an instant message away, but honestly, I’ve never felt so prepared for the unknown. … We are leaving now with so much more than we came with.”
Receiving the Condon Medal for engaged citizenship, the only award presented at commencement, was Jenn Rosenberg of Worcester, Mass., who was director of the Colby Volunteer Center.
Transcript of Richard Russo’s address is online at http://www.colby.edu/news/detail/488/