Conn College grads urged 'to dare'

New London — Amid breezy spring skies and cheering family and friends on the lawn of Connecticut College’s Tempel Green Sunday, College President Katherine Bergeron urged this year’s graduates to not only remember the school’s first graduating class, but to be “glad to dare” as they had 100 years ago.

Founded in 1911 by a group of pioneering suffragettes, Bergeron said, Connecticut College, from the beginning, “was a school born in passion and born with a mission.” With its first class of 67 women graduating in 1919, Bergeron said those women, just like Sunday’s class, faced uncertainties while studying at the school.

Arriving in 1915 as freshmen at a college "that was not yet finished,” and then as sophomores being forced to “face the fear and uncertainty of a country entering into world war,” Bergeron said, “What it must have been like as seniors, then, to experience the armistice, and then to wonder what they are now supposed to do and take their education into the world and make a better one.”

So like the college's first graduating students, many of whom went on to make their own distinct marks on the world, becoming “doctors, dentists, professors, teachers, social workers, poets, journalists … ,” Bergeron said she hoped the 2019 graduating class would also stand strong, even in a future of uncertainty.

“Glad to dare!” she said. “That is the hope I hold out for all of you, Class of 2019."

Conn awarded bachelor of arts degrees to 403 graduates from 25 states and 15 countries who wore sky-blue commemorative stoles over their black gowns to mark the 100th anniversary of the college's first commencement.

Besides a joint-commencement address — a first for the college — from Columbia University professors of biological sciences Tulle Hazelrigg and Martin Chalfie, who was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his introduction of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) as a biological marker, the college celebrated graduate Sam Simonds of Amherst, Mass., who won the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize "for most outstanding honors thesis," as well as graduate Rocio Cardenas of Chicago, who was awarded the Anna Lord Strauss Medal "for outstanding public or community service, including service to the College." 

Senior Class Speaker Issraa Faiz, of Andover, Mass., who majored in international relations and double minored in Africana studies and film studies, also said she and her class studied together during a “unique and troubling time in this country.”

“Political divides continue to tear this nation apart as we focus more on our differences than our similarities,” she said. “And as a visible Muslim-American woman, I’ve often been targeted by the hate in our country.”

But it was during those uncertain times, Faiz said, that she’s moved forward “on the love of the community of Conn.”

The concept of “love as a state of being,” as opposed to one of fear and hate, she said, has dictated the Connecticut College atmosphere, allowing its students to thrive and challenge themselves, as well as put themselves through uncomfortable moments, “for the betterment of humanity.”

“Operating in a state of love is the greatest gift a Connecticut College education gives us,” Issra said. “This love is what makes the honor code thrive and what makes this college feel more than a school, but as our community and home.”

“We have been determined to speak out, take care of each other and most of all to maintain that sense of unity we all had been promised on our college floors five, or even six, years ago,” she said. “As our nation has become more divided, our community at Conn has made a grander effort to maintain respect, tolerance and love for one another.”

m.biekert@theday.com

 

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