Buoyed by Hope and Light, Class of 2024 Departs Mayflower Hill

Graduates and their families celebrate their accomplishments, draw inspiration from commencement speaker Doris Kearns Goodwin

Jubilant graduates fling their caps into the air after receiving their diplomas. (Photo by Brianna Soukup)
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Ashley L. Conti, Gregory Rec, and Brianna Soukup
May 26, 2024

Members of the Class of 2024 stepped into their next chapter with a reflective look at the past and a shining view toward the future during Colby’s 203rd Commencement on Sunday, May 26, a ceremony notable for its nods to history and hope. 

President David A. Greene welcomed the students, their families, and friends to Mayflower Hill, offering his proud congratulations to the graduates, warm thanks to their families, and a thoughtful meditation on the journey to get here. 

“I love the rituals of commencement—how it provides this moment of reflection while at the same time being about new beginnings. This class is filled with smart, accomplished, passionate individuals who are ready for a new beginning,” the president said. “To the Class of 2024, congratulations to you. You are uniquely prepared to make your mark in the field and on the issues that matter to you most.” 

President David A. Greene hugs a graduate after presenting their diploma at Colby College’s 203rd Commencement. (Photo by Gregory Rec)

The 536 graduating students who began their Colby career in the shadow of the pandemic ended it under blue skies and bright sunshine, their family members, friends, and faculty cheering them on as the colorful flags of the 46 countries that represented the students’ nationalities danced in the light breeze that played over Miller Lawn. 

If it all felt like an auspicious sign for what’s to come next, that sounded right to just about everyone present. 

Newly-minted graduates celebrate at commencement. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“If there’s a class that deserves to have some sun shining on it when they are leaving Colby, this is the class that deserves that,” Greene said to robust applause from the audience. “It was a leap of faith to imagine that we could live and learn together in the darkest days of the pandemic, but we did just that. We learned from that experience that we can persevere through the toughest times, that we can never take for granted the power of personal connection, and then we must always recognize our fallibilities and see our interdependence as a source of sustained strength.” 

Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64, LL.D. ’78, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian, delivered the commencement address. She brought the crowd together in laughter as she recalled certain aspects of Colby life 60 years ago, in a long-ago era of chaperones and separation of the sexes. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, right, clasps the hand of Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64, LL.D. ’78, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian who gave the commencement address. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“In my day, the women’s dorms were at the bottom of the hill, the men lived in fraternities and dorms at the crest,” she said. “When a man came to visit a woman, a bell was rung, and the bell went, ‘Man in the hall, man in the hall.’ And we had the most peculiar rule of all—that whenever a man was in a woman’s room, at least one foot had to be on the floor at all times. We never quite figured out that they knew what we could do with that.”

Times have changed, and the campus has grown, she mused, but some very important things at Colby remain the same. 

“The changes that I see have not changed the most vital part of Colby College. And that is the relationship between the professors and the students,” Goodwin said. “That was the elixir. It allowed students to begin to understand what their [own] calling might be.”

For her, that happened thanks in part to Albert Mavrinac, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and her academic mentor, who passed away in 2006. Abstractions like democracy, freedom, justice, and equality became urgent and alive in his classroom. Through him, she secured an internship in the U.S. State Department in the summer of 1963 and that August, she had the life-changing experience of being part of the historic Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Goodwin was one of an estimated quarter of a million people to march, carry signs, listen to speakers like Martin Luther King, Jr., and dream of a better, more united country. 

“I felt lifted up by the most joyous moment of unity and community I had ever experienced in my life,” she said. “We were all together working for a better America. And those feelings may sound naïve and sentimental, but they were real, and they were profound.”

In fact, idealistic young people across the country shared those feelings and used them to bring about lasting, important change. That happened locally, where Jacqueline Núñez ’61 successfully advocated for the College to enact a non-discrimination clause before it became standard in higher education, and nationally, like when students at the University of Michigan took up JFK’s challenge and helped create the Peace Corps. 

Graduates pose for photographs at Colby College’s 203rd Commencement. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“This is when change happens in this country,” Goodwin said, noting that Colby recently named a new residential hall in Núñez’s honor. “When a movement of citizens fires the conscience of the American people and the government responds.” 

The challenges facing today’s youth are even more daunting than those of the 1960s, she said, and include a broken political system and a nation scarred deeply by the pandemic.  

Proud, happy family and friends embrace graduates after commencement. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“We older adults have bequeathed to you a more fractured country than any time since 1860,” she said. “It is a time when trust in almost all of our institutions has been diminished, when the power of words is cheapened, when books are banned, when democracy is, in general, in peril, and when history itself is questioned, misconstrued, or utterly ignored.”

Yet America has lived through terrible times before and emerged with greater strength, she said. It can do so again, though it requires something essential: people of good character. 

Friends and family cheer during Colby’s 203rd Commencement. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

“Character is what I trust Colby has helped you develop through the values that underlay the mission of this school I so love,” Goodwin said. “For then one day, many, many long years from now, your friends and colleagues, your children and grandchildren will be proud to tell your story, to relate that you are a person of compassion, a person of empathy and courage, a person whose character will be able to live on in the actions and the memories of all those who knew and loved you.”  

Colby bestowed honorary degrees to six individuals who have worked to improve lives and advance our collective understanding of society, history, culture, and humanity. Colby gave honorary degrees to Ann Beha, award-winning architect; Gov. Janet T. Mills, Maine’s first woman governor and attorney general, who delivered the baccalaureate address on Saturday; Claude Rwaganje, Congolese immigrant and founder of ProsperityME; Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. ’70, Maine state historian, author, and architectural historian; Dwayne Tomah, Passamaquoddy language keeper and cultural preservationist; and Susan Unterberg, visual artist and Anonymous Was A Woman founder and funder.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills receives her honorary degree. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“[Their] lives and achievements exemplify the wondrous journeys that await the Class of 2024,” Greene said. 

Student speaker Brunda Katikireddy ’24, a computer science and mathematical science double major from Durham, N.H., served as the president of the Student Government Association this year. She also helped found the e-NABLE club, which builds prosthetic hands for people who need them. 

A triumphant graduate holds up her diploma in celebration. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

In her speech, Katikireddy drew lighthearted yet meaningful comparisons between the experience of attending college and the movie Kung Fu Panda. In one scene, the main character discovers that there’s actually no secret ingredient in something called “secret ingredient soup” and learns that in order to make something special, you have to believe it’s special. 

“In our own lives, we have and will encounter countless scenarios where we can choose to see the mundane or the magical,” Katikireddy said. “No matter what the occasion, the potential for something special lies in our perspective and attitude. It’s not about having the perfect circumstances or some rare or secret ingredient. It’s about recognizing value and beauty in what we already have.” 

Another moment of celebration. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

Greene also honored Andrew Iferenta ’24 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.

Iferenta majored in science, technology, and society with a double minor in cinema studies and English. Originally from the Bahamas, he attended high school in New Jersey and Massachusetts. At Colby, he served on the Student Government Association all four years, including as vice president his senior year. 

Students and faculty get ready for commencement to begin. (Photo by Gregory A. Rec)

Tim Hubbard, associate professor of economics, offered the sending message, continuing the day’s theme of light overcoming darkness. “So I send you off hoping that you remember to nourish your soul in all that you do. Let it radiate so that it’s capable of overtaking any darkness, and love will carry us through,” Hubbard told the graduates.

Full coverage of Commencement 2024 can be viewed on demand.