The Colby community gathered to welcome members of the Class of 2022 at the College’s 201st Convocation Tuesday, Sept. 4, where incoming students were challenged to consider how they honor their values and contribute to the world.
The ceremony on the lawn of Lorimer Chapel marked the beginning of the academic year. Members of the incoming class, who come from a multitude of backgrounds, including 41 U.S. states and 36 countries, were urged by convocation speaker and Crawford Family Professor of Religion Nikky-Guninder K. Singh to work to make Colby “an intimate home where … with our individual talents and interests, we enjoy enduring connections with one another.”
In her address, Singh contrasted the bucolic Mayflower Hill setting with “a larger global home that is neither fertile nor harmonious,” calling today’s world “empathetically arid and dangerously divided and polarized,” increasingly beset by “those horrible ‘isms.’ Otherism, racism, sexism, classism, fanaticism are getting more threatening.”
Singh said that as the world becomes more diverse, we become more afraid of ourselves. “As a result we perpetuate intolerance, hate crimes, and violent actions. Your liberal arts education, your experience at Colby, is more urgent than ever.”
One of the world’s leading experts on Sikhism and a renowned scholar and translator, Singh interpreted a Colby education in terms of the five-fold experience of self-discovery explored in the ancient Indian sacred treatises, the Upanishads. The self, she said, using the translation from the Sanskrit, is physical, aesthetic, mental, moral, and collective.
Singh urged students to find balance in their lives, savor the beauty around them and the richness of others’ stories, expand their mental horizons, discover the wisdom to find their moral voice, and embrace the humanity they share with others. “The goal?” she said. “To do our very best to sustain and promote the rich diversity and pluralism of our multiverse.”
Colby’s current expansion of physical and intellectual resources is “phenomenal” in the way it can hone all five dimensions for students, she said.
That experience, said President David A. Greene, is built on a rich and daring history, one that all those on Mayflower Hill can learn from. Greene recounted the story of Samuel Osborne, who was born into slavery and, soon after the end of the Civil War, took a job as the College’s janitor. He would hold the position for 37 years. Two of his children attended Colby, and his daughter Marion was the College’s first African-American graduate, in 1900. “History tells me that one person, one family, can make an extraordinary difference,” Greene said.
Considering the significance of courageous moments in Colby’s history, he recounted the decision to abolish fraternities at Colby in 1984 as one that demanded resolve to ensure that the College lived up to its values of inclusivity, and he reflected on the generosity the Waterville community showed when residents raised money to buy Mayflower Hill for a new campus. As Colby returns to downtown Waterville with Alfond Commons and other investments, the momentous gesture of that earlier era should be remembered.
Greene told a personal story about traveling to Ireland for the funeral of his young nephew this summer. In the small town he met two men who were digging his nephew’s grave and thought they were cemetery workers. Later he learned that they had volunteered to do the work “because this is the way you actually help your neighbors when they’re in need.”
He was struck that he might assume others would do that work for him, “when there is no more important thing that we can do at that time but to engage.”
Greene said he looked forward to the Colby stories that the assembled students would be part of one day, as they began what he called “a wonderful journey.”
The first-year students beginning that journey are a talented group, selected from more than 12,000 applicants. Almost a third are students of color and 11 percent are non-U.S. citizens. Eleven percent are the first person in their family to attend college. Forty-three percent receive Colby need-based financial aid and 14 percent qualify for a federal Pell Grant.
The class is the first to enter Colby with the College’s pledge that an admitted student whose family income is $60,000 or less, with assets typical for that income range, will attend with no parent or guardian financial contribution. This is just one part of the Colby Commitment, which provides that each admitted student’s demonstrated financial need will be met without student loans.