Connecticut College grads told to 'live with a sense of forward possibility'
New London — Commencement speaker Ethan Brown told graduates of Connecticut College's Class of 2021 to “always live with a sense of forward possibility.”
Brown, who graduated in the Class of 1994 and founded the company Beyond Meat, shared his own story and told graduates that as they seek to awaken to their own potential and live a life of possibility, to remember their starting point.
He said Connecticut College is a “challenger institution” that opened its doors “to provide women with the rigorous higher education they were being denied elsewhere.” The college “broadened the circle of who and what matters.” He said the graduates are part of this challenger institution and part of a generation that is pushing for change.
“Keep challenging,” said Brown, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. “Keep broadening the circle of who and what matters and free of limitation, reach deep into the beauty of your heart and build a blank canvas that waits today for your own special story.”
In an outdoor ceremony at the campus's Tempel Green, 380 members of the college community graduated Thursday afternoon.
Friends and family members sitting in chairs on the grass — socially distanced from other groups and wearing masks — applauded and cheered the Class of 2021, dressed in black caps and gowns, as its members received their degrees on the sunny, breezy day. The ceremony was livestreamed so people also could watch it virtually, and graduates who were not able to attend in person were recognized on a screen.
One graduate, Hans Amos Horst-Martz, was awarded his degree posthumously and a family member walked across the stage to collect his degree in his honor. Senior Class Orator Emir Küllük said Horst-Martz always wanted to make the world a better place, whether by doing something as small as fixing a swingset behind Harkness Chapel or as large as addressing climate change: “He was a person who radiated the warmth of community and gave us all a sense of hope for the future.”
During the ceremony, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John F. McKnight Jr. delivered the land acknowledgement and a call to community. Megan Marie Aldrich of the Class of 2021 performed "America the Beautiful" with the New London Big Band.
College President Katherine Bergeron called the graduates “the incomparable Class of 2021.”
“I cannot tell you how meaningful it is to stand before you and to be able to declare today's exercises — the 103rd commencement of Connecticut College — officially open,” she said. “What an honor, what a gift it is to be with you. Every graduation is momentous, but this year, honestly it feels like a miracle.”
She expressed gratitude to parents and guardians, to faculty and staff, and to students “who showed strength and resilience and compassion as you pursued your goals while managing to keep a virus off our campus.” She also expressed gratitude for every person involved in the months of planning so people could gather safely on Tempel Green.
Küllük reflected on the global challenges and personal struggles the students faced and read aloud part of a poem from Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet: “Living is no joke, you must live with great seriousness, like a squirrel for example. I mean expecting nothing except and beyond living. I mean living must be your whole occupation.”
Küllük said he found himself turning to the first line “living is no joke” as his personal motto to adapt to what life had become and he got busy: building a half-acre farm, working for an alumnus to build a start-up company and putting his liberal arts education into action.
Likewise, his classmates did, too: “making music, enrolling in summer classes, creating workout challenges,” and “supporting communities in need, listening to voices that are not always heard," and educating themselves about the history and sociopolitical dynamics of this country.
As members of the Class of 2021 prepared to graduate, he told them to “Seize this life with your whole heart as you’ve done throughout your time at Connecticut College and never forget that living is no joke.”
During the ceremony, DeFred G. Folts III, chairman of the Connecticut College board of trustees, was awarded the College Medal as he will retire from the board in June. Graduate Justin Nnaemeka Nwafor was awarded the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize and Graduate Grace Frances Amato was awarded the Anna Lord Strauss Medal.
Professor John Anthony was recognized for his five decades of service to the college.
Evan M. Piekara, president of the board of directors of the Connecticut College Alumni Association, reminded graduates that: “Wherever you travel, you can always call Connecticut College home."
Rabbi Susan Schein, director of Zachs Hillel House and college chaplain, gave the Benediction.
Graduates Ariel Elizabeth Salerno and Gabrielle Sophie Veilleux performed the alma mater, and Bergeron, Aldrich, Salerno, Veilleux and the New London Big Band performed the victory song.
For a gallery of more photos from Connectict College's commencement ceremony Thursday,