At Convocation, Students are Urged to Move, Play, and Thrive

‘Let’s find all the joy that we can in this community,’ President Greene tells the Class of 2027

Annie Kloppenberg, associate professor of performance, theater, and dance and inaugural director of the Lyons Arts Lab, delivers the 206th Convocation address on the Lorimer Chapel lawn. (Photo by Gabe Souza)
By Abigail CurtisPhotography by Ashley L. Conti and Gabe Souza
September 7, 2023

As they were formally welcomed to the Colby community, the students who make up the Class of 2027 were encouraged to spend the next four years exploring ideas, embracing experimentation, welcoming imbalance, and diving into play. 

They even did a quick rendition of the “Hokey Pokey,” led by convocation speaker Annie Kloppenberg, associate professor of performance, theater, and dance and inaugural director of the Lyons Arts Lab. 

“When we move our bodies, we can change our moods and our minds, and vice versa,” she told the students gathered on the lawn in front of Lorimer Chapel for the 206th Convocation. “Movement produces new neural pathways that expand possibilities. The brain and the body do not operate independently. … You should remember this, that movement can be a tool for transformation.” 

President David A. Greene told the students that he was excited to see the Class of 2027 and thrilled for the new year to begin, adding that he hopes that joy will be a watchword for the campus community. 

“Let’s make this an incredible semester. Let’s find all the joy that we can in this community because it’s everywhere to be found,” he said. “I hope you find joy in being with one another, find joy in the intellectual engagement of this community, and find joy in being in this absolutely beautiful place with some of the most remarkable people you’ll ever have a chance to spend time with throughout your life.” 

Members of the Class of 2027 do a quick version of the “Hokey Pokey,” led by convocation speaker Annie Kloppenberg, associate professor of performance, theater, and dance and inaugural director of the Lyons Arts Lab. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Introducing the new dean

President Greene introduced the students to Gustavo “Gus” Burkett, the new dean of the College, whom he described as having a positive, energetic, can-do attitude. 

Gustavo “Gus” Burkett, new dean of the College, introduced himself to the Class of 2027. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

Burkett, whose last position was as the senior associate dean of diversity and community involvement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Colby community a little about himself, starting with his “humble but happy” childhood in Argentina in a family that prized education. 

“While we had a roof over our heads and we didn’t miss anything, we didn’t have many financial resources,” he said. “[My parents] made sure that we had an excellent education because they knew that that would set us up for success. Our education was our parents’ legacy to us.” 

Education has opened many doors for Burkett, he said, including one that first led him to Maine as a high school senior studying abroad. Although Bangor, where he lived with a host family he described as “fantastic,” was not exactly the Boston suburb he had imagined, it was a great fit for him. So much so that when he returned to Argentina after his year was over, it didn’t take long before he applied for—and won—a scholarship to be an international student at the University of Maine. 

That experience was transformative. 

“I learned that I had to allow myself to be flexible. I learned that it was OK to not have it all figured out. I learned about my identity as a Latino international student and all the stresses about visas and maintaining good standing with the government,” he said. “I learned what it felt like to be away from my culture, and how important it was to find my people. I learned how to struggle and get through challenges, and I learned how important it is to keep an open mind, to be curious, and to know when to ask for help.” 

Faculty and members of the Class of 2027 keep cool during the 206th Convocation. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Burkett has gone on to have a career in higher education, helping students to thrive in their own college careers. He is excited to return to Maine to join the Colby community. 

“The dedicated staff and the unbelievably talented students are the perfect ingredients for a bright future,” he said. 

He knew he had made the right decision to come here after two people told him something they believe is very special about the student body: that Colby students are not just talented and well-prepared, but also genuinely good human beings. 

“Twice in just a few short weeks, I heard from unrelated people in very different contexts that Colby College is preparing students exceptionally well to be successful in their areas of study,” Burkett said. “But perhaps equally, or dare I say, more importantly, they shared how we are helping develop great humans in a world where we have plenty of examples and opportunities to question humanity.” 

‘We hope you will surprise yourselves’ 

Kloppenberg gave some insight into how to make that happen. Meaningful interpersonal connections, challenging experiences, and the opportunity to contribute to “something beyond ourselves” all play an important role in a positive college experience, she said. 

“As you navigate these first few weeks and the next four years, keep building connections with one another, with faculty and staff mentors, and with the community at large,” Kloppenberg said. “Feeling good about those relationships might just help you be a better student.” 

President David A. Greene welcomes the Class of 2027. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Stress, imbalance, risk, exploration, and play are important parts of the educational journey. 

“We ask you to take risks, so part of our job is to support you as you do,” Kloppenberg said. “And you need things in your life that challenge you, inspire you, and bring you joy.” 

The iconic Miller Library tower soars over the assembled members of the Class of 2027. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

As well, the nature of a liberal arts education means exploring ideas and disciplines “liberally,” or freely, she said. Here, good students are those who seek diverse experiences, ways of thinking, reasoning, and asking questions. Faculty will ask students to test their limits, to make mistakes, to put forward hypotheses, and to prove themselves wrong, she said. 

“We hope you will surprise yourselves,” she said. “You will uncover new ways to assemble ideas, with an ever-expanding category of what you know pointing you toward and carrying you into the unknown. That cycle of exploration and production is learning.” 

A welcome from students 

The first-year students also heard warm words of welcome from Brunda Katikireddy ’24,  president of the Student Government Association, and Andrew Iferenta ’24, vice president. 

Katikireddy said she came to college eager to try new things and encouraged the Class of 2027 to do the same.

“Join every club you have the slightest inkling of interest in. Take any class that sparks a sense of curiosity within you and follow up on those vague, ‘let’s catch a meal sometime’ chats and see where it all takes you,” she said. “I know, especially right now, Colby can seem like a strange and unfamiliar place, but as hard as it may be, I want to encourage you all to embrace that discomfort because that is the first sign that you are being tested and growing as a person.” 

Iferenta said community has enhanced his Colby experience, and he urged the students to put in persistent effort and patience to find their own home here. 

“You’ll meet people here from friends to professors, administrators, even alumni, all of whom genuinely care about your well-being,” he said. “They want to see you succeed in all that you do, and if you give them a chance, I have no doubt you can grow beyond your imagination.” 

Andrew Iferenta ’24, vice president of the Student Government Association, rings the Revere Bell. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Toward the end of the ceremony, the chapel lawn reverberated with the deep, pure sound of Colby’s 1824 Revere Bell, rung by student representatives from each of the current classes. The historic bell—cast by Paul Revere at his Boston foundry and believed to be one of fewer than 60 such bells still in existence—has been part of convocation since 2021. 

Finding the moon 

Finally, Adrian Blevins, professor of English and author of the forthcoming book of poetry Status Pending, told the students a story intended to whet their appetites for curiosity and learning. It was about something that happened on a family camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains when her nephew, Joseph, was just 13 or 14 months old. 

After a day packed with swimming, a cookout, campfire songs, and bedtime stories, the grownups expected the kids to drift off to sleep in their little sleeping bags. But Joseph spotted the moon peeking through the window of the tent, and “he just couldn’t get over it,” Blevins said. As he repeated the word “moon” over and over, raptly gazing at the night sky, the adults started to giggle. 

“The joy Joseph obviously took in having found or figured out something primary about the physical world is a joy you have been given the profound opportunity to feed now and to figure out how to continue to cultivate and to keep alive,” she said. 

Students stream toward the Lorimer Chapel lawn. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)
On a hot, sunny day members of the Class of 2027 listen to convocation speakers. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

That’s the case even though life can be unspeakably difficult or tragic, she said, along with “shockingly, beautifully mind-blowing.” The feeling of joy that Joseph expressed that night, and the sense of excitement that keeps babies everywhere awake all night long, Blevins said, is the body-mind state she hopes that students, faculty, staff, and administrators will try to remember and cultivate this year and always. 

“It’s when we are most open and playful, when we are the most awake, that we do our best work. It is when we are our most pioneering, when we ask the best questions, and it is when we are the most curious and uncertain but brave that we make the biggest leaps,” she said. “And anyway, it’s your moon, too. Go get it.”