At Colby’s 202nd Commencement, Messages of Triumph and Hope

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Political analyst Amy Walter tells the graduates to trust their instincts: ‘You get where you want to go with your own internal GPS to guide you,’ she says.

By Bob Keyes
May 21, 2023

With opportunities to seize and problems to solve, members of the Class of 2023 stepped into a future full of possibilities during Colby’s 202nd Commencement Sunday, May 21, a ceremony punctuated by triumph, honor, and hope.

Though faced with a world of daunting challenges and uncertainties, this year’s graduates are positioned to flourish because of their proven ability to overcome hardship, the strength of their liberal arts education, and their commitment to making the world better, fairer, and safer for everybody, President David A. Greene told the graduates, their families, friends, and others who filled the seats on Miller Lawn and spread out under trees in search of shade. 

After an evening of rain and a foggy start to the morning, the sun came out in time to make the celebration warm and bright. With the flags of 32 countries representing the nationalities of students flanking the stage, friends and family brought their enthusiasm and support to redolent Mayflower Hill in celebration of this year’s graduates.

Those graduates endured a tumultuous and dramatic beginning to their college careers. On Sunday, they vigorously celebrated a joyous ending.

 Graduates from the Class of 2023 line up in front of Miller Library before the start of Colby’s 202nd Commencement.
Graduates from the Class of 2023 line up in front of Miller Library before the start of Colby’s 202nd Commencement. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

“That we are here today celebrating your accomplishments after a four-year span that tested all of us is a testament to your strength and resilience. The world needs your wonderful combination of smarts and compassion, idealism and pragmatism, and your insistence that we can always do better,” said President David A. Greene, addressing the students before handing them their diplomas.

“While there is no shortage of things to concern us in this complex and fast-moving world, I find many reasons for optimism, beginning with the 543 members of the Class of 2023. We will miss you, but I hope this wonderful college will always be a touchstone for you, an intellectual home to be sure, but also a place that reminds you of the power of friendship and community.”

The values of fairness and safety were reflected in the honorary degrees that Colby bestowed on five individuals whose passions, intellects, and commitment to improving society motivate their work and define their individual legacies. Colby gave honorary doctor of arts degrees to Daniel Minter, the renowned American artist and artistic director of Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland, Maine; Márcia Minter, Indigo Arts Alliance executive director and award-winning arts advocate; a doctor of letters degree to Amna Nawaz, a Peabody Award-winning broadcast journalist and co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, who delivered the baccalaureate address on May 20; a doctor of laws degree to Gerald Talbot, a trailblazing civil rights leader, founder of the Maine NAACP, and the first Black legislator elected to the Maine House; and Dr. Loren Walensky, pediatric oncologist, cancer researcher, and Harvard professor who has worked extensively with Colby faculty and students over the years.

“These exemplary individuals have each in their own ways been steadfast in their effort to make things better for the next generation,” Greene said. “I hope you’ll find in their stories and their lives inspiration for what is possible for all of us.”

‘We managed to stick together’

Student speaker Tovah Duffaut ’23, a Bunche Scholar from Raymond, N.H., recounted the obstacles she and her classmates had to overcome to make it across the stage at Miller Lawn— waves of nausea and anxiety associated with being new on campus, a first year interrupted by the pandemic, the heartbreak and uncertainty of studying remotely while in isolation, and then returning to campus in a world upended by a global health crisis, riven by social unrest, and deeply divided along political lines and cultural fault lines.

“But throughout all of these changes, we managed to stick together. We found comfort in spending time outside. We got competitive with virtual bingos and trivia games. And we found ways to keep each other company. And it all led to us being here today. We got to have our senior year,” said Duffaut, an English major who minored in anthropology. “But more importantly, we embraced each other, we became friends, and we became the crazy upperclassmen that jump all around, blast music, and probably make a few new students feel like they’re about to throw up.”

Tovah Duffaut ’23
Tovah Duffaut ’23, the senior class speaker, encouraged her classmates to get out of their comfort zones and follow their own paths in life. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

During her talk, Duffaut read a letter she wrote to her classmates outlining five collective goals she hoped they would share going forward: Step outside your comfort zone, eat breakfast every day, go to the gym—or at least take a walk—make true friends, and be happy.

“Follow your own path in life,” she urged. “Live for you and for you alone. After spending the last four years with you all, I know how incredibly smart, talented, and resourceful you all can be. Trust your gut and have no regrets.”

Greene also honored Maggie Blake ’23 with the Condon Medal, the only award announced at Commencement. Voted on by members of the class and faculty, the award is given to a senior who exhibited the finest qualities of citizenship and made the most significant contribution to the development of life at Colby.

Blake, from Carlisle, Mass., double majored in economics and English with a concentration in creative writing. She was a community engagement chair for the Student Government Association, president of the Maine History and Food Club, a COOT leader, and a member of the cross country and track teams. Her contributions to the greater Waterville community include completing an ArcGIS mapping project of the parks in Waterville, serving as a Colby Cares About Kids mentor, and teaching Sunday school in Winslow. 

Graduates can create their own narrative

Political analyst Amy Walter ’91, Litt.D. ’17 and a member of the Colby Board of Trustees, delivered the commencement address. Walter, publisher and editor in chief of the influential newsletter the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter and a popular TV panelist, congratulated the graduates for joining the world of Colby alumni and said the skills they learned at Colby will serve them long into the future.

“There are so many Colby grads out there in the world doing amazing things and living extraordinary lives,” she said. “I got to where I am today not despite the fact that I went to a small liberal arts college in central Maine. I am where I am today because of the experience I had at this small liberal arts college in central Maine. Here is where I honed the skills I use every single day in life and in my career. To think critically. To be curious. To be empathetic. To appreciate the wonder of the natural world all around us.”

Amy Walter
Amy Walter ’91, Litt.D. ’17, gives the commencement address, reminding students that real success comes from knowing yourself and your values. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

She reminded the graduates they are part of an angry and divided world, where the social fabric has frayed “perhaps beyond repair,” where technology instead of drawing us together has divided us. “And of course, there is a fear that AI and robots will take all the jobs and eventually come and destroy the human race,” she said.

“But guess what? You don’t have to accept that narrative. It’s not yours. You didn’t create it. You don’t have to own it.”

Instead, today’s generation is changing the narrative surrounding politics, race, and class, she said. “You are redefining our institutions” by infusing them with core values that reflect today’s society. “You are making our institutions fit the 21st century instead of trying to shove 21st-century realities into boxes in which they no longer fit.”

Walter’s commencement speech marked the second time she has addressed Colby graduates. She delivered the baccalaureate address at Colby in 2017 when the College awarded her an honorary degree.

In the six years since she has become a force in the world of political analysis. Washingtonian Magazine named Walter one of Washington’s “Most Powerful Women” and “50 Top Journalists” as a leader in political analysis and forecasting. The Washington Post honored her with its Crystal Ball Award ­for her “spot-on” election predictions in 2000.

Walter said that for her, success came relatively late. “I was 30 years old before I figured out what I really loved to do. And it took me another 15 to get good enough at it to do what I’m doing right now,” she said.

Her point: Real success comes from knowing yourself and your values. “You get where you want to go with your own internal GPS to guide you,” Walter said. “Over time and through experience, I have come to understand what I valued. Empathy. Kindness. Honesty. These traits aren’t always appreciated or rewarded, especially in Washington or in politics. But they matter to me. And without them, I’m sure that any success I would have gained would have felt hollow.”

After the students received their diplomas and tossed their mortar boards in the air, Arisa White, associate professor of English, provided the sending message. “You have arrived at an end and a beginning. Take some time to breathe. Take some time to breathe. Take some time to breathe. Check in with yourself. Make time to rest. Make time to assemble who you are with who you want to be, with what it is you want to leave behind,” White told the graduates.

“Go forth without skipping a beat. Congratulations, Class of 2023. I love you.”

Full coverage of Commencement 2023 can be viewed on demand.

Graduates pop champagne
(Photo by Gregory A. Rec)