Mitchell College grads urged to share their stories

New London — When Mitchell College President Janet Steinmayer listened to other commencement addresses, the ones that stood out were from Nora Ephron, J.K. Rowling and Conan O'Brien — not for their wit, but for their personal stories.

Mitchell College's 75th commencement ceremony was held on sunny Saturday morning. When Steinmayer looked out at the Class of 2019 sitting under a white tent on the campus green, she shared the stories from more than 15 of the graduates.

She'll never forget the sound of the drones buzzing from Adam Thorne and Brandon Gennotti. Lisa King helped with the Veterans Yoga Project.

Kate McCormack is one of two three-sport athletes on campus, doing cross country, basketball and lacrosse. The other three-sport athlete, Francesca Pinard, completed two internships at Harvard and is pursuing a career in environmental health and safety. She and basketball player Domenico Santiago helped create bonds between athletes and Thames at Mitchell College students.

They are among the 115 bachelor's degree candidates, in addition to the 17 associate degree candidates, in the Class of 2019.

It is through listening to people's stories "that we develop understanding and empathy, and it is through this that we develop positive change in the world," said Steinmayer, giving her last address as president. She is stepping down next month to become president of Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.

Commencement speaker Benjamin Powers said it has been a privilege to watch Steinmayer rethink what education should look like for "diverse learners."

Powers shared his own story, of earning a Ph.D. and becoming headmaster of The Southport School after his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder brought challenges in school as a child.

Encouraging the celebration of "cerebral diversity," Powers questioned why success is often "measured by some standard of average" and not by likability, adaptability, credibility, reliability, capability and excitability.

As a kid, his difficulties with reading landed him in a windowless, cinderblock "resource room," and at 11 his anxiety landed him in the emergency room with a diagnosis of ulcers.

But Powers said his difficulty holding and processing information was offset by verbal reasoning and visual perception skills.

Eventually, he realized, "I get to define success on my own terms. See, while I was in school, I let myself be defined by traditional metrics of success, which marked me as lazy and unmotivated."

Valedictorian Mary Volpe shared her story: After getting into a few colleges her senior year but finding that none of them felt right, she took off the fall semester after high school. Then she found Mitchell, and she was impressed by the personalized environment.

Volpe enrolled and dove into her schoolwork, setting the goal of graduating with a 4.0 GPA — which she achieved. Along the way, Volpe became an orientation leader, a transition mentor and a student ambassador.

The commencement ceremony also included the awarding of the inaugural Bingham Award to Dr. Anne Bingham Pierson, a physician, professor, artist and great-granddaughter of the namesake of Mitchell College.

Former school psychologist and psychology professor Dr. Glenn Pollack was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award, while Kathryn Lord received the Distinguished Service Award. Lord is the director of The Edward and Mary Lord Foundation, which has given $80,000 to fund scholarships for Norwich students attending Mitchell.

e.moser@theday.com

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