Commencement Weekend 2015 hit its stride at baccalaureate Saturday, May 23, where Deborah Bial, founder of the Posse Foundation and winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant, was the featured speaker. Seniors gave her a standing ovation and had enthusiastic responses to President David A. Greene and retiring Dana Professor of Sociology Thomas Morrione ’65 after all three delivered wisdom and advice in a chapel filled only with the Class of 2015 surrounded by faculty in robes and regalia.
After sketching a world of inequality and political dysfunction that graduating seniors will enter, Bial asked the Class of 2015 to stand. “You are the graduating class of Colby College. Look around you. You are an army!” she exhorted them. “You are where our hope lies. You have to become the leaders we so desperately need.”
Bial quoted President Lyndon Johnson addressing the 1965 commencement at Howard University, 50 years ago: “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity,” Johnson said then. “All of our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.”
“You are where our hope lies. You have to become the leaders we so desperately need.”
“The people who came before kind of made a mess of things,” Bial said, listing a ream of statistics that showed minorities and women underrepresented in politics, business, and higher education, while overrepresented when it comes to economic disadvantages.
“You’re certainly graduating at an interesting time, and boy do we need you. It’s your turn, and you can do it,” she concluded. “You can become people who are educated and aware of what’s needed in this country to restore our meritocracy and make sure that the American Dream remains a possibility for all of our citizens.”
President Greene gave more personal reflections, thanking the class for helping to welcome him to Colby during his first year, helping to convince him early on “how lucky I was to move to Colby.”
He recalled his own graduation and a time spent “meandering” afterward. “Life is not a sprint,” he told the seniors. He described figuring out what was important to him: the value of an excellent liberal arts education, the importance of providing others access to that type of education, and the role of partners who have challenged him to expect more of himself.
“I hope you will align your professional life with your personal values,” Greene said. “When you do … you will make a tremendous difference in this world.” He also urged students to find at commencement those “who have supported you, sacrificed for you, pushed you, and loved you. Acknowledge the role they have played in your success. Pay your debt to them by finding what is most important to you, where you can make a meaningful contribution, and go all in.”
Morrione, after reading from a work by Alfred Korzbski, urged students to “to listen, to hear, and to recognize the ways in which we all construct meaning in response to the situations that we are in. Successfully negotiating human and humane action cannot happen without careful examination of the symbols that rule our lives,” he said. “The map is not the territory.”
During the invocation, James O’Leary ’15 lead a moment of silence for two deceased members of the Class of 2015, Peter Cronkite and Griffin Metto. Class marshal Megan Michie ’15, the senior with the highest grade point average, impressed with her Latin reading of Cicero’s De Officiis, and Shadiyat Ajao ’15 evoked laughter and reflection with her poem Pressed Flowers.