WATERVILLE — In a world filled with chaos, debt and war, we can find hope by collaborating and working together.

That was the message that actor and filmmaker Robert Redford gave to graduates at Colby College Sunday afternoon, where he delivered the keynote address at the school’s 194th commencement.

“After you leave this school, where you’ve had the security and the comfort of the school itself and your friends, when you step out of that, you’re stepping into a world that’s well, it’s pretty rough, pretty chaotic,” Redford said to the graduates. “It’s divisive. You have climate change. You have debt. Wars. It’s kind of a grim story, but I think the story can be re-told and I think you’re the ones to do it.”

A total of 488 graduates were honored Sunday at the ceremony on the lawn outside Miller Library. Honorary degrees were also given to Redford and four others.

“For two centuries, students, faculty and families have gathered in Waterville on days like this to celebrate achievements earned, to reflect on four years of personal and intellectual growth, and to look ahead to a future filled with possibilities,” Colby President David A. Greene said in a welcoming address. Greene, who took office as the school’s 20th president in September, also noted the importance to him and his family of being at their first graduation on campus.

“I hope you will recognize in your times of challenge and moments of exhilaration that the human spirit is nourished through collective wisdom, support and action,” Greene told the students. “We do not walk this world alone, and we do not succeed without the love, guidance and the occasional push from others.”


His message was similar to the one offered by Redford, who is known as the founder of the Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival and for his career as a two-time Academy Award winning actor and director.

Redford, whose grandson is a member of the class of 2015, began his address by talking about the value of a good teacher. He described himself as an easily distracted elementary school student who would often draw stories for himself under his desk. Instead of punishing him for not paying attention, Redford’s third-grade teacher saw that his classmates were delighted with his drawings and allowed him to draw pictures weekly for the class, as long as he promised to pay attention. He then asked the graduates to focus on two words: hope and collaboration.

“Compromise is supposed to be the definition of politics. It’s the art of compromise, but we don’t see it. Obviously something has to change, and I think you’re the ones to do it,” he said.

Redford recalled the movie “All the President’s Men,” in which he plays Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in the newspaper’s investigation of the Watergate scandal. The movie was released in 1976, but years later Redford said he was prompted to review the archival footage when a television station asked him to consider revisiting the story.

“Looking at the footage, there was a moment that stunned me,” Redford said. “The Watergate hearing committee was made up of people from both sides of the aisle — Republicans and Democrats — and what really stunned me was how this panel was working together to get to the truth. I thought, ‘Wow, there was a time.’ It is possible. It can be done, and I think I’m putting it in your hands.”

Margaret Bower, the senior class speaker, reflected on the experience of the class of 2015 in a humorous address in which she recalled her first visit to Colby as a child with her father, an alum, and her brother, a member of the class of 2017.


“It’s been exhilarating, exhausting, informative and really such a gift,” Bower said of her time at Colby. “How lucky have I been to be able to walk this campus, live here, learn here and meet people that I’m obsessed with for four years?”

The 488 graduates on Sunday included students from 43 countries, as well as many students from Maine. Honorary degrees were given to Redford as well as Deborah Bial, the president and founder of the Posse Foundation; Andrew Davis, an arts, education and environmental philanthropist; Roger Ferguson Jr., president and CEO of TIAA-CREF; and Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist, filmmaker and founder of Define America.

After the ceremony, Sara Gibbons, a graduate from Devonshire, Bermuda, said she is planning to move to New York City to apprentice for the David Dorfman Dance company. “I’m going to miss the people and the community here at Colby,” said Gibbons, who was a theater and dance major.

Kaitlyn O’Connell, another graduate, said she will be attending graduate school for biomedical science at Tufts University. She hopes to become a pediatric dentist.

“I’m definitely going to miss everything about it,” said O’Connell, who is from Danvers, Massachusetts, and played field hockey at Colby. “It’s been an awesome four years. I can’t imagine not coming back in August for the field hockey pre-season.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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