Connecticut College sends Class of 2016 into 'world of unimaginable complexity and challenges'

New London — Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron acknowledged Sunday that the Class of 2016 is graduating from the school at a time of change.

In the past four years its students grappled with a transition to a new president in 2013, major construction across the campus, a changing approach to designing class curricula and questions about free speech and political dissent following the discovery of a Facebook post by a college professor who used controversial language to describe violence in the Middle East. 

"Since your arrival in the summer of 2012, your class has witnessed the beginnings of a slow evolution at this college,” Bergeron said.

But none of that compares to the challenges and changes that lie ahead for Sunday's graduates, Bergeron told them.

"You're entering a world of unimaginable complexity and challenges," Bergeron said.

Bergeron cited Alberto Vecchio, one of the researchers on a team that announced in February it had proved the existence of gravitational waves, which Albert Einstein predicted in writing his theory of relativity.

"We have opened a whole new way of listening ... which will allow us to discover phenomena we have never seen before," Vecchio said at the announcement of the discovery.

A new way of listening to uncomfortable truths or dissenting opinions could serve the college's newest alumni well, Bergeron told them.

"Listening is always the first step to changing the narrative," she said. "It’s by the effort of listening that you open yourselves to new possibilities."

The college awarded 429 Bachelor of Arts degrees and four Master of Arts degrees during the ceremony Sunday, held under cloudy skies with the occasional sprinkle of rain.

Rukmini Callimachi, the New York Times reporter who gave the commencement address, had some advice for the women graduating into the world Bergeron described.

First, she advised, be patient.

Callimachi dropped out of Oxford University, was mistaken as a prostitute while reporting as a freelance writer and India and became the "Christmas tree lighting correspondent" for a small town newspaper in Illinois before being hired by the Associated Press and The New York Times.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I came very close to giving up,” she said. “If I made it, it’s simply because I kept going.”

Callimachi said she discovered she loved reporting while walking the streets of New Delhi after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake.

She urged the Class of 2016 to find a career they love.

"You suddenly find that there's a wind at your back propelling you forward," she said.

Callimachi applied for jobs at The New York Times year after year, pasting her name over the bylines in Times articles to hang in her house and will a job there into being.

She closed with a message for the women graduating from Connecticut College.

"We, as women, do not expect enough of ourselves," she said. "Let no one — not society, not your family, not a boyfriend, and certainly not yourself — stand in the way if your ambition."

Graduating senior Mia Haas-Goldberg, a California native who the college chose to give the student address at Sunday's ceremony, said the Class of 2016 is already on its way to fulfilling its ambition.

"We are more than ready for the jump ahead," she said, comparing graduating to thrill and terror of jumping off cliff. "When faced with adversity, we led the charge to inform, to educate and to build."

Connecticut College isn't perfect or polished, she said.

But "Conn's imperfections set the stage for our greatest moments of learning and relativity," she said. "To me, this is one of the greatest gifts."


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