Television writer David E. Kelley and civil rights attorney Mary L. Bonauto to speak; education philanthropists Joan and Bill Alfond ’72, and groundbreaking business leader John W. Rogers Jr. will be honored.

While celebrating the accomplishments of the 2019 graduating class May 25-26, Colby College will recognize the contributions of five individuals who have created positive change on a local, national, and global scale and who embody and express high ideals and values of the College—commitment to diversity and equality, dedication to the connection between Colby and its broader community, and belief that a strong education creates a path to a meaningful life. Colby will grant honorary degrees to:

  • Commencement speaker David E. Kelley, a renowned television writer who has created several visionary, award-winning dramas, from Ally McBeal to Big Little Lies. A native of Waterville and son of legendary Colby hockey coach Jack Kelley, he applies his legal education to the craft of writing compelling dialogue, challenging audiences with provocative story lines and creating complex female characters that illuminate issues related to women’s lives;
  • Baccalaureate speaker Mary Bonauto, an attorney and winner of a MacArthur “genius” award for her creative, strategic thinking in the fight for equal rights and against discrimination based on sexual orientation, who successfully argued a landmark marriage equality case before the Supreme Court and is widely considered the mastermind behind the approach that led to the right to marry for same-sex couples nationwide, and who the New York Times Magazine compared to Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy for her lasting legacy on civil rights;
  • William Alfond ’72 and Joan Alfond, whose steadfast support for Waterville has ensured its growth and prosperity and who have exhibited unwavering passion for creating access to quality education for the people of their community, from helping to build a national model for early childhood education in central Maine to being instrumental in efforts to bring new life to downtown;
  • John Rogers, a national leader on financial literacy, whose Ariel Foundation led to the creation of a public charter school on the south side of Chicago that combines quality K-8 education with financial literacy skills, one of the founders of the Black Corporate Directors Conference, which champions corporate diversity and inclusion and encourages African-American directors to promote the civil rights agenda within their respective boardrooms, and who demonstrates his commitment to creating opportunities every day through his philanthropy and involvement in the community.

“This distinguished group represents so much of what we as an institution teach our students and aspire to as they set out to make a difference in the world,” said President David A. Greene. “The lessons of these individuals’ lives—supporting important causes with vigor, exposing and finding solutions to injustice, excelling at one’s craft, and giving back to the communities that matter to us—are exactly the lessons we want to convey to our graduates. We are thrilled to be honoring these remarkable individuals and to have the opportunity to benefit from their wisdom.”

David E. Kelley will address Colby’s Class of 2019 and their families on Sunday, May 26. The winner of 11 Emmy awards, he created and wrote Boston Legal, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and, most recently, adapted the novel Big Little Lies for the hit HBO series. Kelley earned a J.D. and practiced law in Boston for three years before joining the entertainment world. That background informed much of his writing, which also became known for his exploration of women’s voices and issues they face in the workforce.

Reflecting on Big Little Lies, Reese Witherspoon told Good Morning America, “For me it was a huge opportunity with five distinct female parts, where women are talking to each other in the way that they really talk to each other, about issues that are really affecting their lives every day.”

In that HBO show, Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and others play characters who “were informed by the double standard that many of these women are held to,” Kelley told Variety in 2017. “They’re expected to have careers but god forbid they miss a moment of their children’s lives or they will be maligned. There’s just a bigotry there that men are not exposed to.”

Mary L. Bonauto will deliver the baccalaureate address to graduates on Saturday, May 25. Described by former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank as “our Thurgood Marshall,” she has successfully litigated some of the most important civil rights cases of our times, including before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, which granted same-sex couples nationwide the right to marry. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont have freedom to marry laws thanks to her litigation. In Maine, she was a member of the executive committee on the state’s marriage ballot campaigns.

Wrote Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times, “Most Americans have never heard of Mary Bonauto. But inside the tightknit world of gay legal advocacy, Ms. Bonauto is a quiet celebrity.”

Beyond same-sex marriage, Bonauto works to ensure legal protection for children whose parents are not married, and she’s won cases regarding guardianship, de facto parenthood, and adoption rights for LGBTQ people and couples in several states. She is civil rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights at Harvard Law School, and a member of the Gill Foundation board of directors.

Joan Loring Alfond has had a longtime commitment to youth education, starting as a child in Eastport, Maine, through earning a degree in elementary education from the University of Cincinnati. In 1990 she cofounded Concierge Services for Students, which provides support services to international students from more than 40 countries and helps them navigate the educational system and broader culture in America. She was a former director with the Red Sox Foundation, and, along with her husband, supports educational, health care, and charitable institutions in Maine and Massachusetts through the William and Joan Alfond Foundation, which they created in 1986.

William L. Alfond ’72 is a successful businessman and committed philanthropist, the third of four children of Harold Alfond, L.H.D. ’80 and Dorothy “Bibby” Levine Alfond ’38. Born in Waterville, he forged his own path in business and became a senior executive in the family-owned Dexter Shoe Company, where he was an expert in areas of business management such as production, finance, inventory management, and marketing. Alfond is professionally involved with the Boston Red Sox as a member of its board, and he is co-chair of the U.S. Biathlon Association and serves on the boards of the YMCA in Maine, the Governor’s Academy, and Carrabassett Valley Academy. A Colby trustee, he is also currently co-chair of the College’s campaign, Dare Northward.

John W. Rogers Jr. is chairman, chief executive officer, and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based firm he founded in 1983 that offers no-load mutual funds for individual investors as well as separately managed accounts for institutions and high net-worth individuals. Beyond Ariel, Rogers is a board member of McDonald’s, NIKE, and the New York Times Company, and he serves as vice chair of the University of Chicago’s board of trustees. Nationally, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a director of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. In 2008 Rogers was awarded Princeton University’s highest honor, the Woodrow Wilson Award, presented to alumni whose career embodies a commitment to national service. Following the election of President Barack Obama, he served as co-chair for the Presidential Inaugural Committee 2009, and he recently joined the Barack Obama Foundation’s board of directors.

Members of the Class of 2019, who number approximately 460, came to Colby from 38 states and 32 countries. The majority of graduates have studied abroad and completed internships and significant scholarly research. They will go on to a broad range of careers and to graduate or professional schools to study law, education, finance, medicine, environmental research and advocacy, nonprofit leadership, and much more.

The commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on the lawn of Miller Library, weather permitting. It is open to the public, and attendees who are not family members of graduates are asked to bring their own chairs. Any notice of weather-related location change will be posted at colby.edu, as will the link to a live video stream for those unable to attend.

Members of the media who plan to attend, need information, or wish to arrange an audio feed during the ceremony should contact Henrietta Schmalzel in the Office of Communications at pr@colby.edu or 207-859-4350. Advance notice and Colby-issued press credentials are required of all members of the media.