On Saturday, May 26, Colby faculty, staff, and trustees gathered for an dinner honoring the five distinguished individuals who would receive honorary Colby doctorates the next day. More than one person was heard to say, “This is so COOL,” gazing across the Diamond Atrium at jazz legend Sonny Rollins, one of Colby’s five honorary doctorate recipients for 2007. Though hopes that he might play a little sax were dashed, Rollins was a hit nevertheless. Bro Adams reported in his dinner remarks that Rollins said, “I got an award [the Polar Music Prize] from the King of Sweden on Monday, and now I’m having dinner with the president of Colby!”
In his own remarks, Rollins said he learned from listening to Fats Waller as a boy that music has a special power to give people joy and to be life affirming, and he is “honored to be a jazz musician carrying on in the tradition”
Novelist John Barth celebrated his 76th birthday at Colby on Sunday, and Bro presented him with a small cake on Saturday night. “I feel older already,” Barth said, before launching into a marvelous story about himself and a friend met while both were students in the Johns Hopkins masters of fine arts program. The friend vowed to use the teaching portion of his career to “answer all rhetorical questions,” and Barth vowed to say everything that “goes without saying.”
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Brookings Institution fellow and former finance and foreign affairs minister for Nigeria, spoke of Africa’s efforts to end government corruption, provide health care, education, and economic opportunity for its peoples, and promote homegrown forms of democracy. “Africa is not solely a continent of conflict and crisis,” she said.
Nobel-winning economist Thomas Schelling was determined not to scoop his Commencement address (about the fact that the world made it to the 21st century without using nuclear weapons following Hiroshima and Nagasaki), so he spoke about his special connection to Colby, through stepson David Coleman ’90. “If it had been anyplace but Colby, I would have said, ‘I don’t need an honorary degree, especially if I have to fly to northern New England to get it,'” he said. He also spoke about Barth’s novel The Sot-Weed Factor, which he called one of the most intriguing books he had ever read: “If you can find the damn thing, get it and read it,” he said.
Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of Art, spoke about the critical importance of college and university museums in these times when art is selling at record prices, museums are under pressure to increase attendance to pay for their operations, and the public has little appetite for contemporary art. College museums, he said, can and do take risks that other museums can’t. By showing the sweep of art, including contemporary art, college museums can help students understand that art is not all of the past. “It is shocking that so many people don’t understand that there are artists now among us,” he said.