200th Commencement Highlights Connections, Creativity, and Courage

By Laura Meader
May 23, 2021

Colby’s Mayflower Hill campus teemed with energy during its 200th Commencement May 23, an event rich with original poetry and music, distinguished guests, and immense pride for the Class of 2021. A cohort of 513 talented, driven, and capable individuals, today’s graduates leave a legacy of courage and resiliency as leaders who conquered the challenges of learning and living under the storm clouds of the pandemic.

For the entire Colby community, the applause and cheers from those gathered from around the world in front of the iconic Miller Library was a joyous chorus of celebration.

“I did not see a day when this could be possible, even a few months ago. To have you all here today is just extraordinary,” said President David A. Greene, looking across the expanse of guests.

“We’re going to beat this pandemic,” he continued, “but our lives should not simply revert to where we were before. … We recognize both conscious and unconscious ways of what we lost as we stood apart from one another over these last months. But let us never again take for granted life’s precious moments, which reside as much in the ordinary as they do in the extraordinary.”

Such awareness was not lost on Class Speaker Nicholas Ho ’21, a Bunche Scholar from Hong Kong. Ho told his classmates that in spite of the pain and loss the pandemic wrought, “it has brought me to profound moments of gratitude, of getting to live and breathe more fully all the things that once seemed so banal: things like smiles and hugs.

“I hope you all feel as lucky as I do that we get to celebrate in the joys of togetherness, right now, with each other.”

Nick Ho '21 and Scott Jackson '21
Class Speaker Nick Ho ’21 and Scott Jackson ’21 perform “At the End of it All,” an original song Ho composed for today’s ceremony.

Presidential poet Richard Blanco, this year’s commencement speaker, built on Ho’s message, speaking of an interconnectedness that comes from truly seeing each other. “To see each other is to enter into the dialog, an affirmation of each other’s lives, an invitation to participate in each other’s reality.” 

Blanco—the nation’s fifth inaugural poet, an award-winning author of four critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, and a poetry advocate—reminded graduates that “the ultimate purpose of any education is to learn all kinds of seeing. But, as I’ve learned and feel, we can’t really see anything unless we first truly see ourselves,” he said. 

Richard Blanco
Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco, who read a poem written for the Class of 2021, “Your Self in You, Again”

“And certainly, this milestone is a time to take inventory. To take stock. To take a look at your life in the proverbial mirror and see who we’ve been, who we are, who we hope to be.”

In celebration of the Class of 2021, Blanco wrote an original poem, “Your Self in You, Again,” that speaks to the notion of seeing oneself, “but also of centering yourself so that you can see within yourself, the most beautiful, honest, creative, intelligent being,” he said.

Excerpt from “Your Self in You, Again” 

See you as your self in others, again.

As you turn your tassels, turn to one another, and say: I see you. I see you. I see you. Turn to yourself and say: I see me in everyone. Turn to the sun and say: we see us as One Colby. Toss your caps with trust into the winds of hope, fling them with faith, aim for tomorrow’s horizons. And as you walk back down the aisle under rolling clouds, look up at them, see them again as the same clouds you once gazed at as a child, see them as yourself now, knowing it’s time to change your shape, without having to change your being. See yourself as you in this poem that you’ll keep writing for yourself with the ink of your will for the rest of your beautiful and challenging life.

Other highlights of the ceremony included the bestowing of honorary degrees to four distinguished individuals. Erin French, a James Beard Award-nominated chef, owner of the famed restaurant The Lost Kitchen, and advocate for Maine women; Michael Rosbash, winner of the 2017 Noble Prize in Medicine, Brandeis University professor, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; Theresa Secord, an award-winning basketmaker preserving the culture and history of the Wabanaki Nation and its traditional art of ash and sweetgrass basketry; and Trustee Emeritus Charles Terrell ’70, an authority on higher education access whose courage made Colby a more welcoming place for the Black and Latinx students who followed.

Hannah Johnson ’21 received the prestigious Condon Medal, the only award given at commencement. The Condon Medal, established in 1920, honors a senior, by vote of the senior class and the faculty, who exhibits the finest qualities of citizenship and has made the most significant contribution to the development of life at Colby. Johnson is a psychology major and religious studies minor from Lancaster, Pa.

Huan Bui ’21, the 2021 class marshal, led the graduates crossing the stage to receive their diplomas and a handshake from President Greene. Bui, who earned the highest grade point average this year, is a physics and mathematics double major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He will start a Ph.D. program in experimental atomic physics at MIT this summer.

As the ceremony neared its end, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies, spoke of the “north light,” a light favored by artists for its consistency. The north light, Gilkes said, is ever-present, ever-available, and an enduring creative source—and an inspiration.

“Be a north light. Be a persistent resource for vision,” she implored the graduates. “You are here today because you dared northward in a quest to learn, to grow, to think, to create.

“Hold up the light,” she said, “and let your light shine around the world.”

Replay the full Commencement ceremony here