The digital age is making people dangerously tired, and young people have the opportunity to change that for good, Internet pioneer and author Arianna Huffington told Colby College graduates on Sunday, May 22.
Speaking to a crowd of about 3,000 at Colby’s 195th Commencement, Huffington, most recently the author of a bestselling book about sleep deprivation, said that the multitude of devices and overload of information in people’s lives have resulted in stress and sleep problems.
“Frankly, it’s a chaotic world,” Huffington said. “We take much better care of our smartphones than we do of ourselves.”
In front of Colby’s iconic Miller Library on a picture-perfect day, degrees were awarded to 504 seniors in a ceremony that blended humor and high spirits with serious reflection on the graduates’ journey ahead. “I wish for you lives filled with moments of joy, friendship, and laughter, but I also know no life of great meaning is without its hardships,” said President David A. Greene, who praised the “creative intellect and dogged determination” of the Class of 2016.
“You’ve had the privilege of studying with extraordinary faculty … who have helped you to develop the capacity to evolve and learn throughout life while making an impact on the issues you care most about,” Greene said. “The rigor and breadth of a Colby education has proven to have enduring value, preparing citizens of the world to approach challenges with tools of analysis and interpretation, with an appreciation of context and culture, and with an understanding that the synthesis of diverse perspectives and approaches will lead to deeper understanding and more-effective solutions to even the world’s most vexing problems.”
Greene introduced Huffington as a true lifelong learner, noting the extensive research she conducts for her books. “She provides an example of what we hope our liberal arts graduates will take out into the world,” he said.
The cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group said that the instant communication afforded by smartphones, tablets, and personal computers places unhealthy demands on people, who should unplug before bedtime and frequently throughout the day.
She urged the Class of 2016 to “challenge the Neanderthal norms of so many workplaces” and make sleep quality a priority (even on their résumés). She also urged graduates to connect with others personally—not electronically—and change the culture and language around work and sleep. Earlier in the week, Huffington sent each graduating senior a copy of her 15th book, New York Times bestseller The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time.
Huffington received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Colby, one of four honorary degrees awarded over commencement weekend. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, received a doctor of laws degree and spoke at Colby’s baccalaureate May 21. Edison T. Liu, president and CEO of the Jackson Laboratory, received an honorary doctor of science degree, and Lars Peter Hansen, a Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist and expert in economic dynamics, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Class Speaker Brendan Leonard of Peabody, Mass., elected by fellow seniors, spoke of the personal connections he has made at Colby. “We have the chance to be Colby people—people who have an unshakeable goodness, humility, and warmth, know how to have a good time, and appreciate what discovery and making connections feels like,” he said.
The class was led in the procession by Kaitlin Curran of Wayland, Mass., who, as the graduate with the highest grade point average, was class marshal. A major in French studies and an anthropology minor, Curran was a junior-year inductee into Phi Beta Kappa and co-president of the French Club. She’s headed to a first job at Tufts University’s English Language and International Programs.
Bonnie Maldonado, of New York City, was given the Condon Medal for constructive citizenship, the only award presented at commencement. Maldonado, a double major in American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and a minor in Italian studies, was a Posse Scholar, president of Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity, and student liaison for the American Association of University Women. She starts a Coro Fellowship in New York this fall.