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From watching a meteor shower at 3 a.m. to creating a market for bags made by Cambodian women with HIV/AIDS, the Colby College Class of 2011 has balanced playfulness with intellectual gravitas and the passion to make the world a better place. The message came from commencement speaker Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the student-elected speaker, Aleah Starr ’11, at Colby’s 190th commencement ceremonies May 22.
Speaking to the 486 members of the graduating class, Shah, who leads the agency responsible for supplying U.S. aid to the developing world, focused on internationalism at Colby and on graduates’ impact on the global community. “From Ethiopia to Bangkok, Uganda to Nepal, Colby grads are at the forefront of helping serve those in greatest need,” he said.
Service, he said, can come from any sector. “Today any career or skill can be put to the service of those in need,” he said. “Whether you choose to join development or any other field, your broad and inclusive view of the world will give you unique insights that allow you to shape a much more interconnected planet.”
At a time when some are questioning the importance of this country’s commitment to other nations, Shah emphasized the importance of investing in developing nations. Colby graduates, he said, are particularly suited to make an impact. “By bringing together a variety of skills, whether you’re premed or a history major, an engineer or an economist, you can play your part in the next great opportunity to improve human welfare,” he said.
In addressing her classmates, Aleah Starr, an English major and education minor from Montpelier, Vt., considered various forms of play. Playfulness, she said, need not be construed as immature. “We play each time we seek an elusive idea or a new trail in the arboretum,” she said. “We play broomball in ridiculous costumes and campus golf in more conservative ones. We examine an unknown with the kind of curiosity one would call childlike, except that here at Colby, we have come to consider this behavior entirely age-appropriate.”
“Perhaps most memorably, however, my classmates and I have played with convention. We routinely challenged the assertion that our generation—the technologically savvy millennials—is the most apathetic. We protested the stereotypes, which decree both that those with privilege cannot commit to fighting for social justice and also that those without it cannot possibly speak and act on their own behalf,” she said. “We have most certainly played with history and its wild trajectory, because today some among us will be the first in their families to graduate from college.”
“Ultimately, I believe that it is curiosity and courage, in the company of our playmates, that produce the passion necessary to create change,” said Starr.
Following Starr’s speech, President William D. Adams awarded the Condon Medal, given annually to a senior with extraordinary qualities of constructive citizenship, to Sonia Mahabir. The English major and education minor from New York City was dedicated to issues of diversity on campus.
Class marshal and valedictorian Katelyn Ouimet of Southington, Conn., led the procession of seniors as they received their diplomas from President Adams.
In addition to Shah, four others received honorary Colby doctoral degrees: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, sociologist and pioneering African-American studies professor Adelaide Cromwell, Cianbro CEO Peter G. Vigue, and philanthropist Bernard Osher.