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New Connecticut College students told to stick their necks out

New London — Standing at a podium on Tempel Green on Monday and addressing the 529 new students to Connecticut College, Virginia Anderson held her phone to her ear and paused as the audience waited quietly.

She left a voicemail: "Good afternoon, Senator Blumenthal. My name is Virginia Anderson, and I'm a voting constituent from zip code 06357. I'm calling today to encourage your vocal support of LGBTQIA rights. I look forward to following your actions in this area over the months ahead. Thank you so much."

It was a fitting performance piece for a theater professor to make as part of a keynote address for the 105th convocation at a college that encourages student activism.

As part of her speech, "Of Giraffes and Mission Statements / www.govtrack.us," Anderson encouraged the students to stick their necks out. She spoke of a giraffe mug her grandfather had that said on the bottom, "Stick your neck out today."

Her grandfather, Cleve Anderson, got the mug from the Giraffe Heroes Project, which honors people "who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good." The elder Anderson was a chemical engineer who wrote the book, "The nuclear threat that dwarfs the bomb: Plutonium poisoning of the southwest water supply."

"There are so many ways to take meaningful action, and it doesn't need to be a grandiose project," Anderson said. "Of course, I encourage you to get to know and work closely with community organizations, to think critically about representations of race, gender and class in the art that you create, to learn a foreign language."

This year, Connecticut College has 17 new staff members, 30 new faculty members and 529 new students, including 514 members of the class of 2023, 13 transfer students and two who are returning to college, President Katherine Bergeron said.

In her speech, Bergeron reflected on something sophomore Alyss Humphrey said at the PossePlus Summit Town Hall in Texas this June: "How do we learn to see each other's humanity so that we are prepared to create a better union?"

"I thought about this question this summer during yet another dehumanizing news cycle of taunts and tweets targeting congresswomen of color," Bergeron said. "I thought about it, too, in the shocking aftermath of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, hate crimes happening with such benumbing frequency that the humanity of victims can often be hard to see."

Bergeron spoke of the college's new Dialogue Project, which she said will include workshops, interactive classes and events "to help students become self-aware, to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, to seek out contradiction, to embrace difference, to listen carefully and openly in the pursuit of common ground."

Preceding Bergeron's address, Angela Nzegwu – interim director of religious and spiritual programs – spoke to "acknowledge the land we occupy and honor the people who were its first inhabitants."

Nzegwu said she appreciates Native Americans' stewardship of the land and acknowledged "the suffering they endured under the historic period of settler colonialism."

She began the ceremony after a processional of the new students. Waiting outside Palmer Auditorium before walking to their seats, a few freshmen talked about why they picked Conn and what they're looking forward to.

Mary Flathers said she came for the Connections program because she's interested in a lot of different fields and taking an interdisciplinary approach. Rachael Pember, also of Massachusetts, said she's excited to be on a smaller campus and "in a place where you're able to be kind of better-known."

Tennis player Michael Yan, from New York, said he chose the school for its balance of academics and athletics, and that he's looking forward to the "change of scenery."

e.moser@theday.com

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