Conn College grads ready for the next challenge

Quinn Menchetti of Chicago pumps his fist as he returns to his seat with his diploma at Sunday's 95th commencement at Connecticut College in New London.
Quinn Menchetti of Chicago pumps his fist as he returns to his seat with his diploma at Sunday's 95th commencement at Connecticut College in New London. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

New London - Though the clouds and occasional cold wind hinted otherwise Sunday morning, Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon, Jr. reassured the class of 2013 and their worried-looking family and friends with the first words of his speech.

"It isn't going to rain," he told them.

At the college's 95th commencement ceremony - Higdon's last before he retires at the end of the year - he reminded the graduating seniors that, four years ago in the late summer of 2009, they moved into their dormitories during far worse weather - the worst rainstorm of the year.

He told them that this class of 443 graduates - and two who earned their master's degrees - attended Connecticut College during an important time. They witnessed the ribbon-cutting for the school's new fitness center, the completion of a new science center, and celebrated the college's centennial year.

After Sunday, Higdon said, even with four years of hard work and experience under their belts, the graduates will be starting afresh, suddenly becoming beginners again.

"And beginning again is tough," he told them.

But equipped with their liberal arts degrees, Higdon said they are prepared to work hard and do the things that no one else will.

"You will earn respect," he said. "You will learn. You will advance," and, eventually, be the ones calling the shots once more.

Amy Evelyn Cheetham, the senior class speaker, recalled the moment she said she found passion, hiking to the top of a mountain at dawn in the Patagonia region of South America five months ago, freezing and exhausted, to watch the sun rise.

Standing before her fellow graduates, Cheetham said she recalled that same feeling of awe.

"I find myself breathless once again," she said.

But the real journey began not with that hike, she said, but with her arrival at Connecticut College four years ago. Now, she and her classmates leave with that most important of tools, she said - their liberal arts education.

Getting their first jobs and first apartments may be the immediate challenges, she told them, but the biggest challenge will be to find their passions, chase them, "and to cling to them for dear life."

Howard M. Gordon, Emmy-winning television writer and producer and creator of TV series like "24" and "Homeland," told the class in a speech peppered with pop-culture references that he wanted to tell them to follow their dreams and be unafraid to fail.

"But it's not that simple," he said.

Failing "sucks," he old them. But for when they inevitably do fail, he offered some words of advice drawn from his career in television that got off to a rocky start.

"Try to learn from it," he said, "and never let it stop you."

And with an apology for fortune-cookie wisdom, Gordon recited the seven words that are on a poster in his office as the most inspiring thing the class of 2013 can carry with them.

"Work hard," he said, "and be nice to people."

a.isaacs@theday.com

Local graduates

Bachelor's degree

Groton: Bradie Jane Hutchinson, Geoffrey S. Taylor.

New London: Evan George Gray, Eric Lloyd Johnson, Ines Atugonsa Muganyizi, Pablo Jairo Tutillo.

Old Saybrook: Ashley Marie Glorioso

Pawcatuck: Elizabeth Whitney Anderson, Jennifer Lynn Herbert

Master's degree

New London: Alexandra Marie Nobel

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