At Convocation, Students Told to Expect Some of Their Beliefs to be Shattered

Colby’s 202nd Convocation welcomed the Class of 2023, the most diverse and academically prepared cohort in the College’s history.
By Kardelen Koldas '15
September 5, 2019

Entering Colby students have made a commitment to become lifelong learners, beginning deep intellectual exploration that will sometimes shatter their own assumptions and beliefs but will ultimately prepare them to make a positive impact on their communities and the world. 

That was the message from speaker Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies, and President David A. Greene, who stressed the importance of continuous learning from history and from one another. “We’re in this community together,” Greene said. “And our strength is derived from our willingness to engage with one another even when—especially when—our differences seem greatest.”

The College’s 202nd Convocation, welcoming the Class of 2023, was held Sept. 3 on the Lorimer Chapel lawn and drew faculty, staff, and returning students. Gilkes told the entering students that the event was a celebration marking “the beginning of your empowerment to change the world.”

“Your presence in this place,” Gilkes said, “each and every one of you, is the beginning of that change.”

That role isn’t an easy one, she reminded students. “Making a commitment to lifelong learning is a commitment to a journey,” Gilkes said, and explained how the answer to a single question can sometimes be enough to crumble one’s certainty, but knowledge will come from the questions that follow.

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes
Professor Cheryl Townsend Gilkes delivered the convocation address and exhorted students to continue their commitment to lifelong learning.

Gilkes shared her own lessons of lifelong learning. She said it took her a Ph.D., two fellowships, and a graduate course to figure out the language her grandmother had used when she wanted to speak privately in the presence of Gilkes, as a child. (The language was Gullah/Geeche, spoken in the Carolinas.) “Even if we use ourselves as a starting point, we have something to learn, and teach, and grow from, and to discover.” 

Learning from each other and sharing knowledge are equally important, she said. “As we grow and learn together, we expand possibilities for renewing the world, making the world anew. We are equipping ourselves for spiritual striving that can contribute to and expand, build for good,” she said. That’s why she advised all students to lift up their heads and learn from each other.

Themes of community and mutual respect shaped the ceremony, which also included remarks by Student Government Association leaders Matthew Garza ’20 and Thomas LaJoie ’20 and a musical selection by Associate Professor of Music Jonathan Hallstrom, Applied Music Instructor Joëlle Morris, William Haines ’20, Scott Jackson ’21, and Madiha Molani ’20. 

“Let us demonstrate what is possible in a community dedicated to learning, discovery, and growth,” said Greene. “Let us acknowledge our mistakes and focus on the power of education to enlighten and fuel progress, to push all of us to evolve to our higher and more compassionate state of humanity.”

Greene told the story of Colby’s move from its downtown campus to Mayflower Hill—thanks to the support of the Waterville community—and recounted the forgotten history of the land Colby resides on and of the region, where the Wabanaki people faced systematic violence. Greene said he had been contemplating that history this summer as the Colby College Museum of Art opened its exhibition by contemporary Wabanaki artists. “The creation of this exhibit was a true partnership, built on respect and in deference, and it should be a guide for us as we collaborate with others on campus, in Waterville, and beyond,” Greene said. 

Selected from more than 13,500 applicants, the Class of 2023 is the most competitive in Colby’s history. The 571 members of the class represent 380 high schools from 38 states and 35 countries. Almost one-third identify as students of color. Thirteen percent are first-generation-to-college students, 17 percent qualify for federal Pell Grants, and 11 percent are non-U.S. citizens.