Beware the “Not So Terrible,” Television Writer David E. Kelley Tells Colby College Graduates

May 26, 2019

David E. Kelley, creator of popular and critically acclaimed shows from Ally McBeal to Big Little Lies, urged Colby College graduates to reject a career that is “not so terrible” and instead pursue what will make them truly fulfilled.

A Waterville native and winner of multiple Emmy Awards for his television dramas, Kelley received a standing ovation from the approximately 460 graduates who were conferred degrees at the College’s 198th Commencement.

Kelley recounted his own path after college, attending law school and practicing law in Boston, which he realized wasn’t for him. Referring to the Bruce Springsteen lyric “Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” Kelley said he realized it was writing, not law, that brought him joy. After long days at a law firm, he worked on a screenplay at night—and so began his successful television career, which, early on, drew on his legal background.

“If there’s anything worse than a career you loathe, it could be one you kind of like. For those of you who get jobs you love, you’ll be fine. The ones who get jobs, careers you hate, you’ll figure it out, move on.” But those who continue with careers that are “kind of okay,” said David E. Kelley, “you could be doomed.”

Acknowledging that his advice might seem banal, he urged students to do what gives them joy. “Cling to the [inner] scream,” Kelley said. “Keep it in there because so many, after failing to get what they want, decide the easier route is just to invalidate the want and pretend it was never a goal to begin with, and you become a little more deadened inside.”

“If there’s anything worse than a career you loathe, it could be one you kind of like. For those of you who get jobs you love, you’ll be fine. The ones who get jobs, careers you hate, you’ll figure it out, move on.” But those who continue with careers that are “kind of okay,” he said, “you could be doomed.”

He also suggested graduates look back at their own college application essays, in which many of them pledged to make Colby a better place, and “take advice from the younger you.”

The graduates, he said, “might write another essay in your application for life. What do you hope to accomplish? What you hope to get out of it? More importantly, what do you plan to bring to it?

“There’s one cliché that turns out to be true,” Kelley said. “It’s not about what you attain. It’s about what you give.”

Colby College’s 198th Commencement
Approximately 460 graduates were conferred degrees at the Colby College’s 198th Commencement, which was held Sunday, May 26.

President David A. Greene, opening the ceremony, recalled the decision, in 1817, to locate Colby in Waterville, and the College’s move from downtown to Mayflower Hill in the middle of the 20th century. Members of the Class of 2019, Greene said, are the first to reconnect Waterville and Colby and contribute to the life of the city by living in the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, a Colby residence and retail complex on Main Street.

William L. “Bill” Alfond ’72 and Joan Loring Alfond were among those awarded honorary degrees on Sunday. The Alfonds were recognized for their exceptional commitment to Maine, which illustrates, Greene said, “what it means to return more to your community than you ever take.”

Also receiving honorary degrees were civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto, who in 2015 argued the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, and John W. Rogers Jr., a renowned investor and supporter of educational initiatives for predominantly African-American communities in Chicago.

Moeketsi Justice Mokobocho ’19
Moeketsi Justice Mokobocho ’19

Class Speaker Moeketsi Justice Mokobocho ’19 of Maseru, Lesotho, a biology major with a neurobiology concentration, took the stage to the sounds of the rap song, “We Made It” by Soulja Boy. He thanked students, staff, and faculty for their support, as he spent his four years far from his family. “When I made my journey to Colby, I carried with me nothing but one suitcase and a heart full of dreams and ambitions,” Mokobocho said. He finished his Colby career determined “not to leave this life without finding a cure for cancer,” no matter how naive that sounds.

Mokobocho said he also leaves with “the battle scars of an imperfect journey,” urging classmates to remember bias incidents as they embark on life after college. “We need to keep a fresh memory of these incidents in our minds,” he said, “because as soon as we forget and move on, they resurface within both individuals and institutions.”

“Individuals might come and go,” Mokobocho said, “but ideologies, if given a chance, they will remain, and not only do they remain, but they spread.”

The Class of 2019, which includes students from 37 states and 32 countries, was led in procession by the first students in the history of Colby to tie for the highest grade point average: class marshals Kayla Louise Freeman ’19, of Shrewsbury, Mass., and Nguyen Nhat Thu Le ’19, of Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Lillian Herrmann ’19, of Schenectady, N.Y., was this year’s recipient of the Condon Medal for constructive citizenship, the only student award given at commencement.

Sunday’s commencement followed the baccalaureate ceremony on Saturday, at which Bonauto advised graduates to remember that, as they face new challenges, they already have succeeded as they’ve taken on in college. She told graduates to leave their comfort zones, remain optimistic, and welcome dialogue with people of differing viewpoints. “Your generation is shaping the discussion and the agenda on issues of vital, profound importance for our entire world,” Bonauto said.