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New London - While friends and family sprawled out on the warm grass in sandals and colorful sundresses, the Connecticut College Class of 2014 lined up on Tempel Green Sunday morning in somber-looking black gowns.
The 463 young men and women spent their last few hours as students sitting in the sun-speckled field, listening first to an idealistic, impassioned address by a classmate, then to a Harvard Law School professor who reminded them that commencement ceremonies don't reflect the complex - and sometimes difficult - reality of transitions.
But underlying both speeches was the reassurance that a Connecticut College education had prepared graduates for all parts of life - the beautiful and the ugly.
Senior class speaker Kolton Harris of Groton, who graduated Sunday with a degree in English, reminded students that professors and friends from Connecticut College will always be an "anchor" for them as they pursue their dreams.
Harris, who has acted in Flock Theatre productions and plays in a band called The BSides, encouraged his classmates not to set aside their big, perhaps "unrealistic" dreams and "grow up," as he said many institutions implicitly tell people to do.
"Today, be honest with yourself," said Harris. "Ask yourself questions that scare you."
Graduates may discover that they want to do something that requires a career change, financial uncertainty or moving from home, but that's OK, he said.
"We must regain that childlike ingenuity that once made us invincible," said Harris, who told his peers that as a kid he aspired to grow up to be a fierce lion. "Like children, let us color outside the lines."
Keynote commencement speaker Noah Feldman, an international law professor at Harvard, told graduates that the path that follows those scary questions is never easy.
He spoke of the time he spent in Tunisia following the Arab Spring as the country composed its constitution.
When a provision requiring parity among women at all levels of government passed after a passionate debate, Feldman said everyone present stood and spontaneously sang the Tunisian national anthem. There wasn't a single dry eye in the room, according to Feldman, including his own.
Moments of celebration, like spontaneous singing and graduations, are important and meaningful but not the full reality of transition, he said.
The following day in Tunisia, the transition turned messy, at least for Feldman. He said he was called a "dangerous man" and both an Islamist and a Zionist by a Tunisian right-winger. He had to leave the country.
"All transitions in real life are like this," Feldman told the Class of 2014. He reminded them that they will face obstacles and setbacks, but that they have been prepared for the challenges by the "fragile, extraordinary, valuable thing" that is a liberal arts education.
Facing those challenges and sometimes surmounting them, continued Feldman, "is called being alive. And it will be good."
LOCAL CONN COLLEGE GRADUATES
Bachelor of Arts
East Lyme: Patricia Gail Shields, Hilary Jean Sullivan
Groton: Kolton Hessie Harris
New London: Jordan Michael Bishop, Aaron Samuel Davis, Prince Stanislas Ilboudo, Emil Tsvetanov Lalov, Junhee Lee, Jerell Gebriel Mays, Janelle Rose Medeiros, Talha Mohsin, Molly Resnick, Molly Davis Shimko
Norwich: Yumi Kovic, Zachary Aster O'Shaughnessy
Old Lyme: Ian David Bray Rathkey, Thomas Scott Woessner
Waterford: Evelyn Mary O'Regan, Kirsten N. Pflomm
Ledyard: Elise Bair Jones
Groton: Jessica Rae Newton