WATERVILLE — Sun hats replaced umbrellas Sunday as blue skies and warm temperatures greeted graduating seniors and visitors on the lawn of Miller Library for the 193rd commencement at Colby College.
Thoughts of the day focused on the idea of “being here now,” by both Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the commencement speaker, and also by senior class speaker Omari George Matthew, of the Bronx, N.Y., who said he always looked ahead to the next year of his schooling or to the next step in life — he was existing in the future.
It was never about living now, Matthew said — until Sunday.
“We’re at graduation, everybody. Graduation is the launching pad into a future life, but let’s not worry where we’re going to land right now,” he told the 472 graduates and their friends and families. “What we have to think about during graduation is the emotion of the moment. Exist in this moment, right now.
“You’ll never get another chance to graduate from college. Don’t disrespect it by being anxious about the future. This moment right here is the culmination of all your experiences.”
Gov. Patrick, a first-generation college student and champion of education reform, continued the theme, noting that with social media, smartphones, tablets and Internet gadgets, people have become disconnected from the people they are with here and now.
Patrick said he fears good citizenship is fading from the American landscape, due in part to this disconnect — this distraction — of being somewhere else via Twitter or text messaging.
“I keep meeting young people who, at some critical level, are not engaged — really not present,” he said.
He said a bright young man that he knows uses every manner of Web technology while standing in the same room talking with him.
“In all the time, over all the years we spent talking with each other, I realize I hardly know him at all,” Patrick said. “He was there, but not present. Modern society is awash in information and grappling with how to make the most of social media … but does it help us to connect as human beings? Does it enable us to be present?
“Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more gradual and subtle than Twitter. It requires intimacy, and I worry that the infinite demands of social media … are crowding out intimacy.”
Patrick said you can break up with someone on Facebook, but you can’t fall in love. He said he can Skype with his young grandson, but it’s not the same as holding him.
He said he and his wife on a recent Sunday afternoon just sat together, quietly reading, not talking. They were present together, Patrick said, and for that there is no substitute.
“I’m certain that there was more intimacy sitting wordlessly together in our living room than if we had spent the same time apart, sending emails and texts constantly to one another,” he said. “Human intimacy still matters. It still depends on looking someone in the eye, touching them, actively listening — being present. Be present and see what a difference it makes in your lives and in the world.”
Colby President William D. Adams, who will retire at the end of June, received an honorary degree as is customary for retiring presidents. Adams arrived at Colby in 2000.
Other recipients of honorary degrees at commencement include Richard Blanco, the poet who read at President Obama’s second inauguration; Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; William Chace, former president of Wesleyan and Emory universities; and Andrea Nix Fine ’91, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker who got her start in film as a Colby student.