105th Connecticut College commencement was “All About Love”
New London ― Embrace love. Cultivate love. Share love.
That was Mehin Suleiman’s message to the other 420 members of Connecticut College’s graduating class of 2023.
Suleiman, a biochemistry cellular molecular biology and Hispanic Studies double major and student scholar in the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, was chosen from five finalists to be the senior class speaker for the college’s 105th commencement Sunday.
Though she totes an extensive background in STEM and will spend the next two years researching vaccines at the National Health Institute’s Maryland campus, Suleiman used her speech to share the message she learned in her English course requirement.
Suleiman read “All About Love: New Visions“ by bell hooks during her junior year and said it changed her perspective on the topic forever. She explained love is best described as a verb, not a noun, and expands beyond emotion by encompassing the well-being of oneself and others alike.
She pointed to loving her time working at the Coffee Closet coffee shop on campus, going to her biochemistry class with best friend at 9 a.m. three times a week as well as being a career-fellow at the Hale Center for career development on campus.
Suleiman said she also loved seeing hundreds of her fellow peers stand up for racial and religious equity on campus, which included student-led protests and sit-ins earlier this year after the resignation of Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Rodmon King in protest of the college scheduling an event at The Everglades, a Florida country club with an alleged history of anti-Black racism and antisemitism.
The movement led to college faculty giving a vote of no confidence in President Katherine Bergeron, who later resigned.
Bergeron did not attend the commencement ceremony.
“Love is not just a personal virtue, but a powerful force for change,” Suleiman said.
Suleiman recognized the complexity and divisiveness of love in today’s world but said the prevailing hope that love will always win is what can propel us all forward.
She said though the next chapter is daunting, for a group that began their college careers with the COVID-19 pandemic, she insisted that love is there to always lean on.
“When in doubt we can lean on love to guide and sustain us,” Suleiman said.
Sally Susman, a class of 1984 graduate, was this year’s commencement speaker. Susman is the chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer Inc. and vice chair of the Pfizer Foundation.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Susman graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in government and later studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She served on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant, then as deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs in the Clinton administration.
Susman held senior roles in communications and government relations at the Estée Lauder Companies and American Express before joining Pfizer in 2007.
Her father, Louis B. Susman, was the commencement speaker in 2012.
Susman’s message Sunday, after receiving an honorary degree, was based around five insights for creating a better world: courage for candor, perfect your pitch, delight with humor, seek harmony, and reflect and honor.
She told students the story of her coming out as gay to her parents, shortly after her own graduation, in an “urgent need for clarity.” Though she said it was the toughest conversation of her life, as she faced prejudices amid the AIDS crisis, it was needed. She credits the conversation for building a better relationship with her parents
“I learned that short-term pain can pave long-term dividends in peace and pride and authenticity,” she told the graduates.
She explained that pitch is the word choice and attitude that we bring to every social interaction and that perfecting it “allows us to reach and relate to one another more profoundly.”
Susman said humor, when used properly, is a way to ease isolation and build bridges, recognition and common understanding. Simply, it’s a way to bring people together.
Susman said seeking harmony, though complicated in a world of opposing views, is complimentary by nature and that “maybe, just maybe, we’re not always right.”
And she urged graduates to reflect and honor the past and the people who have helped them get to their graduation day. Susman recalled how this class’ careers were impacted by a global pandemic and an on-campus fight for equity.
“You will make true the adage that rough seas make for a strong captain,” Susman said.
Sunday meant a lot for graduate Tyler Maguire and his family after seeing the pandemic cut the festivities short for the Class of 2020.
“I’m just really glad I was able to have it today,” Maguire said, surrounded by his parents, grandparents, siblings and girlfriend.
Maguire graduated with a degree in computer science. Though he did not delve into his career plans, he said the next step is to go home to “go back home and celebrate” in Rhode Island.
“It was a great positive event, and I’m just proud of all of them,” his mother, Sharon Maguire, said.
The ceremony also honored Matthew Yamamoto with the Oaks and Louise Ames Prize for the year’s most outstanding honors study. Yamamoto’s thesis compared the long-term patterns of spread of native and invasive plants in a successional, or a young, forest.
Crystal Hernandez was awarded the Anna Lord Strauss Medal for her public work and community service. Hernandez has an extensive history of volunteer and advocacy work in both in her hometown of Houston and in New London.
Faculty members Bruce Branchini, a chemistry professor, and Kathleen McKeon, a math professor, were honored as well for their retirements. They combined for 73 years of service, with Branchini joining the college in 1986 and McKeon in 1987.
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