New London — The first female chief in the history of the Mohegan Tribe urged the graduates of Mitchell College Saturday to never lose their enthusiasm for the things they love.
“Take a risk,’’ said Chief Lynn Malerba of Uncasville, who quit her job as a nurse to work with the tribe and rose to become the tribe’s 18th chief.
A phase in the language of the Mohegans, who own Mohegan Sun casino, means to “dream ahead,’’ Malerba told the 179 students who received bachelor’s degrees and the 21 who received associate degrees during the outdoor ceremony.
She highlighted a list of successful people — Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Michael Jordan, Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, The Beatles, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison — who all failed at something during their lives or were told their ideas were worthless.
Lincoln lost eight elections. Disney was fired from a newspaper job because he was told he didn’t have any good ideas. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Dr. Seuss and King couldn’t find publishers. The Beatles were told guitar music was a passing phase, she said.
“Remember this: you must believe in yourself,’’ said Malerba, who was dressed in red and black Mohegan regalia, which featured intricate beadwork of her name “Mutawi Mutahash.’’ It means many hearts and rock woman, she said.
Susan Solecki of Waterford was the valedictorian of the college’s 69th graduating class, while Erich Spader of Mystic was named the salutatorian.
Among students earning associate degrees, Suzanna B. Petersson of Herrakra, Sweden, was valedictorian and Olivia Conde of Watertown, Mass., salutatorian.
Todd Esperance of Norwalk, who gave the student address, told his fellow classmates that he had planned to attend a Division 1 college and was less than enthusiastic when he ended up at Mitchell.
“My first year, I’ll be honest, I stayed up late and slept even later,’’ he said. But Esperance said he was inspired by his freshman orientation leader, who urged him to get involved.
“She said, ‘You’re here, you’re either the problem or the solution,’” he said.
He enthusiastically joined the Student Government Association, became an orientation leader and was the student ambassador for the curriculum committee.
“This is the place we all came to find a formal education,’’ he said. “But it has evolved into something so much more. It is where we found ourselves.
“Now, when people ask me where I went to college, instead of being hesitant to tell them a place I know they’ve never heard of, I will enthusiastically say that I received an education from Mitchell College,’’ he said.
The ceremony also included a Distinguished Alumni Award to Jeffrey Turner, a 1967 graduate of Mitchell and a professor there for 42 years.