A sea of Bates College students, faculty and parents enjoy the sunny Sunday morning that accompanied the 153rd commencement exercises at the Lewiston college. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — There were many sections of cheering parents at Bates College’s 153rd commencement exercises Sunday morning, but proud parents Beth and Tim Kelleher of Los Angeles stepped up the game.

They made signs. And cardboard masks. Laminated, even. All for their daughter, J.B. Kelleher, whose nickname is “Pumpkin Head.”

Thrusting their homemade “Pumpkin Head” masks over the shoulders of others gathered at the edge of the graduation stage in the Quad, the Kellehers made sure their daughter, who graduated with a degree in anthropology, saw them.

“We’re used to high school graduations,” Beth Kelleher said. “We got here and realized no one else was doing anything like this, but she laminated (the heads) already. Game over, locked in.”

The 469 members of the Bates College Class of 2019 represented 36 U.S. states or territories and 36 countries. And 49 of those graduates were the first in their families to attend college.

One of them, Emily Gibson of Mechanic Falls, is a a newly graduated biology major. Her dad, Darryl, said Emily and her older sister were the first in the family to attend college. Both sisters went through Elm Street School and Poland High School. He says both local school districts helped lay the foundation for his daughters’ academic pursuits.


“The schools were phenomenal in getting them a great start and a great foundation,” he said. “The teachers were phenomenal. It takes a village.”

Bates College senior Sophie Jensen is reflected in the sunglasses of her friend and classmate Anna Jarnryd as they line up in preparation for Sunday morning’s commencement exercises at the Lewiston college. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Jennifer Doudna, a professor in the department of chemistry and department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley and co-inventor of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, gave the commencement address.

She talked about her journey to her celebrated career, including instances where she considered scrapping her lifelong interest in science and chemistry.

But after countless failed experiments and setbacks, moments where her work “clicked” propelled her forward. Doudna quoted Mark Twain, saying success hinges on two things: ignorance and confidence.

Claire Ruth Naughton, an environmental studies major and four-year volleyball player of Darien, Connecticut, gives the senior address during Sunday’s commencement exercises at Bates College in Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

“I couldn’t agree more. In my case, it started with a lot of ignorance and just barely enough confidence to, more like stubbornness, to keep plugging away in the lab despite inevitable setbacks and failed experiments,” Doudna said.

“Occasionally, just occasionally, there were those precious moments where everything clicked, an experiment worked, and I got a glimmer of insight about some truth … the feeling that I was seeing something no one else had seen, or thought about before. Those moments kept me going as a student, and they continue to keep me going as a practicing scientist.”


Doudna also cited the need for young professionals to help rebuild a public distrust of scientists.

“Use your talents not just to strike out in business or teaching or starting a new company or extending your education, but also to advance public appreciation and understanding of thoughtful engagement,” she said.

“I have observed over the years an increasing distrust in science — and scientists. Facts have become intertwined with alternative facts, public support in scientific research and scientific method itself is being questioned. I feel like some of the responsibility in this state of affairs lies with those who are scientists. … I urge each of you to step outside of the narrow definition of a scientist or whatever your specialist or focus may be.”

Honorary degrees were also awarded to:

• Travis Mills, a Maine resident and U.S. Army veteran who became a quadruple amputee in combat and is now an advocate for combat-injured veterans.

• Megan Smith, a former Google executive and third chief technology officer of the United States and assistant to the president, serving under President Barack Obama.

Bates College President A. Clayton Spencer, center, claps for students that lined the walkway as she and other administrators and faculty make their way toward the stage for Sunday’s commencement exercises. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Before the procession into the Quad began, Kayla Jackson, a philosophy and woman’s studies grad, said the day felt surreal.

“It’s kind of crazy,” she said. “It feels like just yesterday we were arriving. But it also feels like it’s been a very long time, if that makes sense.”


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