On the Brink of ‘Endless Possibilities’

At baccalaureate, members of the Class of 2024 embrace the future while reflecting on their journey

A faculty member gives an enthusiastic hug to a member of the Class of 2024 at Colby's 203rd Baccalaureate. (Photo by Gregory Rec)
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Ashley L. Conti and Gregory Rec
May 25, 2024

On a perfect spring day, students, faculty, family, and friends gathered on Miller Lawn on Saturday, May 25, for Colby’s 203rd Baccalaureate, marking the achievements of the Class of 2024 with a ceremony that recalled the darkest days of the pandemic and celebrated the hopeful light of the future.

President David A. Greene reminded the audience that the 536 members of the Class of 2024 began their Colby experience in August 2020, during the first year of the global pandemic. It was a time of adversity, change, and uncertainty that upended the usual traditions and patterns of the academic year. But they weathered the difficulties with grace and caring beyond anyone’s expectations, he said. 

“There was something about that year, something about the shared sacrifice, about putting others first, about seeing a common good as a common goal. It ties a community together. It teaches us all about how to live a good life,” Greene told the students. “It’s extraordinary the way that you have come together as a class and how you have led. You have set a very high bar of what’s possible for any place, but for Colby, we will be forever changed for your work here.” 

A member of the Class of 2024 celebrates at Colby’s 203rd Baccalaureate. (Photo by Gregory Rec)

Baccalaureate speaker Gov. Janet T. Mills of Maine kept the graduating seniors and their families engrossed by the story of her life’s winding path, which included a stop on the same verdant lawn in front of Miller Library. As a college student, the governor attended Colby before deciding in 1967 to drop out and join others of America’s restless, idealistic youth in San Francisco. She remembered her feelings at the time precisely. 

“There is some longing which fills your soul, an impatience with lectures, libraries, and note-taking, a need to go somewhere else, strike out on your own, stake your claim on the world,” she said. 

She did just that, having adventures and misadventures before returning home to Maine, where she went to law school, ran for district attorney, married a widower with five children, ran for the Maine State Legislature, became attorney general, and then governor.

Gov. Janet T. Mills of Maine and Dwayne Tomah, a Passamaquoddy language keeper and cultural preservationist, participated in the baccalaureate ceremony. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“What were the odds of any of this?” Mills asked. “Could I ever have imagined that I would be here today on this same hill, feebly attempting to send you off into the world, and ready to receive an honorary doctoral degree 57 years after dropping out of this school?”

But members of the Class of 2024 know something about odds, too, she told them. They started college without knowing when, or if, the pandemic would end and have witnessed many other history-making moments, including school shootings, the killing of George Floyd, the events of Jan. 6, 2021, inflation and economic uncertainty, the overruling of Roe v. Wade, violence and conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, and a mass shooting just an hour away in Lewiston. 

Members of the Class of 2024 stride across campus before the baccalaureate ceremony. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“There is anxiety about the future, as there was when I lived in the Mary Low dorm, and there are many problems ahead for us both to solve,” said Mills, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1970 after leaving Colby and before going on to law school. “I’m so happy that you are ready to take on these problems with the critical thinking, the academic and intellectual resources, the ability to discern, and the urge to create, to tackle the complex problems of today’s world.” 

As they do so, she told the students, their lives will no doubt take many twists and turns, just as hers has. And that’s good because there’s no direct path to success or happiness, she said. 

A joyful crowd of family and friends fills the Miller Lawn on a picture-perfect springtime day. (Photo by Gregory Rec)

“The most beautiful waterways, like our own Kennebec River, are not perfect and straight. The most lovely and abundant parts of the river are the bends and crooks that sometimes surprise us, that make us pause, and plan, and pace our journey differently,” Mills said. “But the trajectory of your lives, I believe, the course of your future, wherever you have been before, is firmer, deeper today because of what you’ve experienced, absorbed, learned, and earned, here at Colby.” 

Nida Fatima ’24 gave the invocation, sharing a few words of her own before she read a poem by Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal. 

“Today, we stand on the brink of a new chapter filled with endless possibilities,” Fatima told her classmates. “Our true selves are defined by our dreams and actions, not by the past or the present. As leaders of the new world, we are ready to shape the future, reflecting the values and the lessons that we’ve learned here at Colby. Let us strive for greatness and make a positive difference in this world.” 

Excited family members snap photos of the members of the Class of 2024 during Colby’s 203rd Baccalaureate. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Cole Burkhart ’24 read the short, powerful poem “The Way It Is,” by William Stafford. 

“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.” 

Members of the Afro-Latin Drumming Ensemble performed during the baccalaureate ceremony. (Photo by Gregory Rec)

Amidst the words and poetry, music performances added vibrancy and joy to the baccalaureate proceedings. Primo Cubano played during the processional and recessional, and violinist Ashley Ren ’24 and pianist Samuel Xue ’25 performed a lyrical, passionate rendition of Por Una Cabeza. The Afro-Latin Drumming Ensemble got the crowd moving and cheering with their two songs, Mamá cuídame a Belén (Güembé), and Fuego en Bucaná (Sicá).

Ashley Ren ’24 performed Por Una Cabeza during the ceremony, and a view of the crowd. (Photos by Gregory Rec)

Dwayne Tomah, a Passamaquoddy language keeper and cultural preservationist, gave the benediction, welcoming the audience in his language and warmly congratulating the Class of 2024.

“You have worked hard to feed your mind, preparing for your next journey. Like the young salmon and the alewives in our rivers, you have struggled, learning to navigate your environment, and find your place in the world,” he said. “Now, prepared, you’re ready to migrate into your very own mysterious and vast sea.” 

Tomah asked that the graduates “forever remember” to honor nature and to generously share from themselves. 

“Remember to reconnect often with the streams, forests, the oceans, and fire. Remember where life began. Invite nature to feed you. Be kind to earth. Be kind to each other,” he said. “Be generous with the vast amount of knowledge you have collected. Share your knowledge, and more importantly, share your wisdom. Listen to your own heart. Be bold. Stand up for what you believe. … Let’s all walk in a good way, side by side by side.” 

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, the Crawford Family Professor of Religion and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, shares a moment with a member of the Class of 2024.(Photo by Gregory Rec)

Commencement begins at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 26, on Miller Lawn, with seniors and invited guests. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64, LL.D. ’78 will deliver the commencement address. Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written seven critically acclaimed and best-selling books chronicling the lives of presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and John F. Kennedy.

During commencement, Colby will give honorary degrees to Mills; Tomah; award-winning architect Ann Beha; Prosperity Maine founder Claude Rwaganje; Maine state historian, author, and architectural historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. ’70; and visual artist and Anonymous Was A Woman founder and funder Susan Unterberg.