WATERVILLE — Colby College President David A. Greene urged members of the Class of 2020 on Sunday not to expect perfection in themselves or seek it in others.

“I hope one lesson you will take from Colby is that failures open the door to learning, change and betterment,” Greene said. “Don’t seek and don’t expect perfection in yourself or others. Doing so will constrain your personal potential.

“You’ll be afraid to take risks and it will hold you back from developing and benefiting from the most powerful and transformative relationships — the ones that require you to fully open your heart and mind, the ones where your imperfections can become your distinguishing strengths.”

Greene stood before cameras in Lorimer Chapel on the Mayflower Hill campus, speaking virtually to the 493 seniors from 36 states and 32 countries, who were invited to tune in with family members and friends for the college’s Celebration of the Class of 2020.

Colby College President David A. Greene speaks Sunday at Lorimer Chapel to 493 graduates from 36 states and 32 countries who were invited to tune in to the college’s virtual Celebration of the Class of 2020. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Commencement was to have taken place Sunday on the lawn of Miller Library, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, that was not to be.

Students left campus about two months ago, and Greene said that while they could not be together Sunday, they would gather and celebrate when it is safe to do so.

“I hope you will still find time to reflect on your time at Colby and the ways you have changed since your arrival on Mayflower Hill,” Greene said.

“I’ve been thinking about this since the day that you left, two months ago. I’ve walked this too-quiet campus many times and it’s afforded me ample time to look backward, to look forward.”

Greene reflected on the day the class first came together on campus in 2016, the day before classes started.

“It was a day that I would ask you, and I still ask you today, to recognize everyone who helped you on this journey and made it possible for you to find those parts of yourself that have the greatest potential to bring light to a world that needs you to shine those talents brightly now,” Green said.

Greene recalled what he said to the class in August 2016, including that they were starting a journey together in a place that has an incredible set of intellectual and cultural resources. He said it is a place where they believe in the value of community and where every individual achievement is a collective joy and every failing or moment of personal tragedy a shared burden.

He said the class had shaped Colby in many important ways.

“You rightly challenged community norms and traditions that brought more harm than good,” he said. “You showed us what it means to really be a part of Waterville and to contribute to and learn from this great city.

“You regularly amazed us with your scholarly and creative talents. You stood up for your democratic rights when they were contested locally. You lit up this entire college with your championship seasons and you constantly raised the bar for what’s possible at Colby.”

The seniors, he said, lived in a community where relationships are central to everything the college does.

“The irony that we all recognize is that learning and living through deep, meaningful relationships, the most fulfilling and enlightening way to live, is threatened when this pandemic limits close personal interaction,” Greene said.

“But this threat will not last. The human capacity for solving the most-dangerous and intractable problems has proven to be remarkable throughout our time. It starts with the superpowers you have acquired here at Colby.”

He cited the powers as those “of interpretation, analysis and creativity; of persistence, grit and resilience; of synthesizing, modeling, testing and refining: of understanding and respecting history in context: of questioning and listening, especially listening for the divergent view, the dissenting voice of communicating clearly and persuasively.”

Earlier, Greene said “courage” and “grace”  best capture the graduating class, of which his daughter, Madeline, is a member. He ended by recognizing the class, and her.

“Congratulations, Class of 2020,” Greene said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Congratulations to my Madeline Greene. Might you all go into this world with courage and grace.”

The virtual presentation Sunday included visual montages of students engaged in sports, musical and academic pursuits, and recorded messages from faculty, staff and Colby trustees, including Eric Rosengren, chairman of Colby’s board of trustees. Rosengren congratulated the class.

“On behalf of the trustees, we hope that you, your family and friends are all celebrating your accomplishments,” he said, “and we look forward to the time we can welcome you back on campus and have a celebration on Mayflower Hill.”

Longtime Colby benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder congratulated graduates, family, friends, professors and others.

“All of us salute your dedication to your academic program, taking full advantage of the outstanding Colby College liberal arts education,” Peter Lunder, a lifetime Colby overseer, said.

“In these challenging times, you, along with your professors, have exhibit endurance and perseverance. As you have completed your education, you will have amazing tales to tell your children and grandchildren.”

Paula Lunder,a Colby lifetime trustee, said she and her husband would love to be part of the Class of 2020’s graduation.

“We are very proud of you, ” she said. “We wish you the very best.”

Kabir Singh, chosen by fellow seniors to speak, appears in a recording Sunday as part of Colby College’s virtual Celebration of the Class of 2020. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Karlene Burrell-McRae, dean of the college, congratulated seniors on “this momentous occasion.”

“I want you to know that you have inspired, challenged and really motivated me to do and be better,” she said, “and as you close this chapter, I also want to remind you this not an ending, but a beginning, and as you venture off, always remember your Colby family is never far and we’ll be cheering, loudly and enthusiastically, because we know what you are capable of doing.”

Senior Kabir Singh, chosen by his peers to issue a message Sunday, also spoke.

Singh, who majored in anthropology and environmental policy, was active in environmental and social justice on campus. He thanked families, professors, staff and friends for their support of students and then veered off on a poetic, quirky and philosophic journey, the text of which only his peers likely understood fully.

“But, yes, this is weird,” he said, referring to the virtual situation prompted by the pandemic. “How are we, supposed to celebrate our years of hard work and our communities that have worked so hard to push us here when everything is all so, kind of strange?

“I keep asking myself this and then I just have to keep remembering that our time at Colby was also very weird, just how everything else is and everything else always has been.”

Singh cited examples of the weirdness, including “those times where we’d all be strewn out between patches of snow, sometimes mounds of snow, in our summer clothes, the first day in April, when it goes above, like, 48 degrees Fahrenheit.”

He spoke of the “quirky but kind of delicious way the pine trees at the far end of the … parking lot taste and the odd, closed nut smiles that some of us, but not all of us, did when we didn’t know what to say but we felt as if something, even if superficial, had to be communicated.

“Or the awkward way the diamond seemed to turn its back to us when all we wanted while walking down the road was to have a conversation with it. And in the winter months when we would walk through Cotter (Union) and make that weird slush from our salty shoes. It’s kind of crazy to think how each of us kind of added a little bit of material and stirred up the slush every time we’d pass through the hallway — a very collective substance.”

Singh said that was the start of a “very incomplete list I have of weird things,” and welcomed people to add to it if they had something to contribute.

Colby College President David A. Greene speaks Sunday at Lorimer Chapel to 493 graduates from 36 states and 32 countries who were invited to tune in to the college’s virtual Celebration of the Class of 2020. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

He said he wanted to reflect on how those weird things and those he did not mention made Colby unique to class members in different ways. The weird things, he said, also illuminate the frictions and contradictions in their world and daily lives.

“The same ones that have made too many believe that the pandemic and the damage from it is an issue caused by a pathogen, even when the unequal impacts of it are clearly a consequence of what is already wrong with our world,” Singh said.

“Interrogating the peculiar things can empower us with transformational connections and push us to be uncomfortable and really be uncomfortable in a way that I think a lot of us need to do more of.”

“You’re weird and I’m weird, too,” he said, “and I’m really proud of us for finishing college.

“Thank you for letting me speak to you in the form of some pixels on your computer screen. And let’s celebrate the weird, 2020. Congratulations. I’m proud of you all, again, and we’re quirky and we made it. Happy graduation.”

 

 

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