For only the eighth time in 50 years, two Colby seniors shared the honor of being named class marshal when they tied as the graduating students with the highest grade point average.
Abby Mynahan ’23, a biology major with a concentration in neuroscience, and Matthew Rocha ’23, a history major, each brought a love of learning, a rigorous work ethic, and a desire to give back to the Colby community. As well, each was elected to join Colby’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter as a third-year student, an honor bestowed on only a small number of students and based on their high grade point average.
The class marshal is a longstanding College tradition, with the title dating back to the era when Colby had a coordinate system rather than a coeducational structure and there were marshals for both men’s and women’s divisions, according to Colby Registrar Lindsey Nelson. As part of the tradition, the class marshal presents a reading during baccalaureate, and both Mynahan and Rocha addressed their peers during last weekend’s ceremony.
For Mynahan and Rocha, the future looks bright, according to faculty members who have worked with them.
Mynahan, who is from Medfield, Mass., has always been curious about the natural world and came to Colby knowing she was interested in studying biology. The College’s interdisciplinary approach to science has been a boon, she said, especially the way that neuroscience is taught here. There’s a focus on students taking classes across departments that is unique compared to other schools, she said.
“It’s allowed me to gain a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the brain and behavior,” she said. “I’ve loved studying science at Colby. I feel like I’m graduating not only as a scientist but also as someone who’s able to think critically about the factors that have shaped science.”
There’s no doubt Mynahan is a campus standout, said Associate Professor of Biology Tariq Ahmad. She worked as a research assistant in his lab and contributed to an article published last year in a peer-reviewed open-access journal that showed how caffeine and alcohol interact in fruit flies.
“It was a pleasure having her as a student,” he said. “She has all the qualities that one would expect in a student: hardworking, intelligent, diligent, humble. She’s just fantastic to work with. As they say, she’s the complete package.”
In the near term, Mynahan is committed to working as an analyst at the Boston office of Clearview Healthcare Partners, an international company that aims to solve complex problems in the life sciences.
“In the long run, I am interested in medicine,” she said. “I’m hoping to wind up in a field that lies at the intersection of my passions for science, medicine, and also social change.”
Mynahan said that exploring those passions was an important part of her undergraduate years. On campus, she worked as a peer leader and an outdoor orientation leader. She was a Colby Cares About Kids mentor—“It’s been really cool watching my mentee throughout elementary school,” she said—and served on the program’s mentor leadership committee.
Resilience played a role for her, too. She was diagnosed in her third year with a chronic illness that “upended her life,” she said, causing her to miss months of school and question whether she could graduate on time.
“I was able to achieve my goal of graduating with my class this May with the support of my incredible friends and professors at Colby,” she said. “I will be forever grateful to the Colby community for being a source of joy during an otherwise challenging period of time.”
Ahmad said he is looking forward to seeing what comes next for Mynahan.
“I’m sure she will do a fantastic job. She will excel,” he said. “I think she’s using her talents in a very excellent way.”
Rocha, of Melrose, Mass., was a member of the Colby men’s lacrosse team, and he was a news reporter, a news editor, and finally co-editor-in-chief for the Colby Echo, the College’s student-run newspaper.
None of that distracted him from his academic coursework, especially in history. For his honors thesis, Rocha got on a plane for the first time in his life, flying to Germany to visit the country’s national archives. He was armed with a German-English dictionary and a burning curiosity to find out more about the plebiscites and referendums held in Germany between the two world wars.
“I think the interwar history is so interesting,” he said. “The elephant in the room is how did the Nazis come to power? Studying that transition is both really interesting and really relevant to today. It has a lot to teach us.”
Rocha pored through old documents to better understand a little-studied element of a critically important chapter of history.
What came of that trip was a paper that was nothing short of extraordinary, said Raffael Scheck, the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History.
“He did an honors project that could basically be a framework for a scholarly monograph,” the professor said. “It’s original work, and it’s certainly the most original and the best honors thesis that I’ve ever seen in 31 years of teaching.”
As well, in January 2022, Rocha did an independent study that dealt with the post-war Nuremberg trials, and efforts to make going to war illegal. It was published last spring in the Tri-Co Law Review, an undergraduate student journal.
“My biggest ally over the four years has been Google Calendar,” Rocha said. “I play lacrosse, and I’m the co-editor-in-chief, and I have friends. To really manage any of them, you have to block the time out, and when you’re spending time on those things, be as efficient as possible. I think that’s the trick to managing college work.”
Rocha said the College’s History Department, in particular, has made his college experience special.
“Every professor is so helpful and so willing to sit down with you and help you. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them,” he said.
In the near future, he hopes to work as a newspaper journalist before potentially exploring law school.
“I think he’ll be great at whatever he tries,” Scheck said.