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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Conn College sends grads back to parents, into the world

    Meicheng Lu, from right, Samuel Lovejoy, Alexander Lorenzo-Cruz and Nicholas Lorentzen throw their caps during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Grace Robinson makes a face as she walks to receive her diploma during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Arrayán Vanegas-Farrara, from left, fist- bumps fellow graduate Miranda Van Mooy as Pricilla Vasquez looks on after receiving their diplomas during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    David Murray, right, celebrates with Connor Murray as they wait to receive their diplomas during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Jazmine Guzman reacts to receiving her diploma during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Class President Lyndon Inglis, right, and Vice President Jocelyn Pinero hit the Castle Court gong to start the procession during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Graduates line up to receive their diplomas during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Danna Sandoval Markett, right, loses her cap as she hugs friend Anahi Lopez Patino after receiving her diploma during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Linet Mercedes cheers as her name is called during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Commencement speaker Laura Coates of CNN, right, receives her honorary degree from Maria Wyckoff Boyce, vice chair of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees, during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mya Johnson reacts to the cold as she kneels before Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Fanny Ditlevsen hugs family members before during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Molly Reid waves to family members as she takes part in the procession onto Tempel Green during Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― Soroya De La Cruz, of Boston, remembers hearing her 3-year-old daughter Giana De La Cruz yearn to be “that girl talking on the TV, in English, to everybody.”

    Now 21, and a first-generation college graduate of the Dominican family, Giana De La Cruz on Sunday addressed 380 of her classmates and thousands of friends and family members as the class speaker at Connecticut College’s 106th Commencement.

    De La Cruz said she wanted her speech to be something the graduates could “hold onto forever.”

    “We have cried, laughed, played, sung and learned on this campus,” De La Cruz told the crowd. “I encourage all of us to see and recognize these connections we leave behind today, and look forward to countless more we’ll create in the future.”

    De La Cruz, a psychology major, summoned a psychoanalytical term known as “the analytic third” as a way to describe the connections she and classmates had made over the past four years at the school.

    “The analytic third is what we create when we make genuine contact with one another at a deeper emotional level of experience, whether in groups, communities, or organizations,” she said.

    De La Cruz’s speech paid mind to to the fact that many of those connections had been forged during the COVID-19 pandemic, either over Zoom or masked. The class of 2024 was no stranger to pressure..

    CNN anchor and chief legal analyst Laura Coates, in the 2024 commencement address, said that when facing such situations, graduates have the choice to be like carrots, eggs or coffee beans.

    “A carrot, when you put it in boiling water, it begins as being very hard, but the pressure softens it in a way. It makes it malleable and easy to be mushed and broken.

    “Then there’s the egg. When you put an egg in boiling water, it begins having a fluidity within itself. It begins being able to be open to change ― it can move. It can have possibilities, and you put it in boiling water, and its very composition changes. It can no longer be moved. It is as it now will be, and it’s unrecognizable to its former self. Don’t be that egg,” she said.

    “Or there’s the coffee bean,” Coates said. “When the coffee bean gets into the boiling water, it doesn’t lessen who it is. It changes the water.”

    Three graduates were recognized for special awards. Ciara Barry McNamara, a studio art and psychology double major, received the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for the most outstanding honors study. Sarah Jane Hall, am environmental science major, received the Claire Gaudiani award for best Senior Integrative Project. Jastity Mena, an educational studies and sociology double major, received the Anna Lord Strauss Medal for outstanding work in community service.

    With the ceremony finished, graduates and their families vacated their white chairs to assemble in small groups on the margins of Tempel Green.

    There, graduate Henry Smyth, a 22-year-old government and French double major from Long Island, smoked a cigar with his brother Arthur.

    “It tastes like a job well done,” he said.

    Amid puffs, Smyth reminisced on four years in what he called “a beautiful place.”

    “Having this whole place as like, your backyard is pretty awesome. I spend a lot of time outside, in the arboretum,” he said. “It’s like you’ve got 700 acres as your backyard. I always liked that.”

    “I’m excited to maybe, you know, move somewhere new finally. Go on some adventures. Find a place to live. Spend a couple years at least ― go explore.”

    Asked how it felt to watch Smyth walk across the stage to receive his diploma, three family members said how proud they were. Mother Kristen Smyth, hearing for the first time since the ceremony someone acknowledge that her son had just achieved a milestone in spite of challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, was overcome with a sudden rush of emotion.

    “It’s like a mix of joy and terrible sadness,” Kristen said. “And complete joy. I’m very proud of him.”

    “It was the whole 2020 thing,” she added. “They went through so much. To come through this is amazing.”

    Father Philip Smyth agreed, recalling when helped move their son into his freshman dorm.

    “You know, we got here in the fall of 2020 and had to drop him off at COVID testing. They gave us about two minutes to help him move into the dorm because they were staggering it if I remember. So, I brought a hand truck and all this stuff so I could sort of run in with my mask on and run back out again.”

    Philip Smyth added he was impressed, both with his son and to his alma mater, Connecticut College.

    “I think that they’ve done a very good job. And a really beautiful ceremony today. Very sincere,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence in the future to see a place like this going strong.”

    Jastity Mena’s younger brother, Brooklyn College sophomore Tommy Mena, had cheered loudly for his sister when she got her award. After, on his cellphone, he was writing a speech to give to his sister who he said inspired him to finish college.

    Giana’s father, Cristian De La Cruz, laughed as she popped a bottle of Champagne in front of Harkness House, where a sign hung that said “Connecticut College congratulations graduates, here’s to new beginnings.”

    “She’s not going to stop. She never stops,” he said as he was flanked by family members near the front steps of the building. “She’s going for a master’s degree right now. She already applied, she got a job at Mass General (hospital) in Boston.”

    “For us, as a family, it’s really important – what she’s doing.”

    Giana De La Cruz said the speech was a way to make her parents proud in “one last big way.”

    “I just hope to keep making them proud, and let them know that the sacrifice – and bringing me here, not only to this country, but to this school, was well worth it,” she said.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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