Journalist Jazmine Hughes ’12 would love to be a very serious person, she told the 424 members of Connecticut College’s Class of 2018—“someone who could share words today that would be imprinted on your skin for ages, archived in your brain for access in times when you need strength.”
But that’s just not her style. So Hughes, an associate editor for The New York Times Magazine who was named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, instead delivered a keynote address rife with her signature self-deprecating humor.
“Telling people that you work at The New York Times makes them kind of crazy; they tell you that you’re fake news, or that you’re failing, or that you’re a bleeding heart liberal, or a buttoned up secret conservative, or that you’re qualified to give a commencement speech,” she joked.
Sharing anecdotes from her own time at Conn—“The only reason I work at the Times is because I started reading it here, as mandated by Professor Tristan Borer,” she said—Hughes advised the graduates to stay humble; to always take the meeting; to acknowledge, but not succumb, to their fears; and, most importantly, to “learn how to read.”
“Read widely and constantly and voraciously. Read because you are a citizen of the world, and all that the world has asked of you in return is to maintain a curious mind. Read so that you know the truth about the whole world, not just the one you operate in,” she said. “Read so that you know the experiences of those who are not like you.”
Then, Hughes told the graduates, go out and make the world “good for someone else.”
“It’s easy to follow my advice and imbibe all the news and feel clobbered by the multitude of inequalities that populate our planet, and to take that feeling and harden it into apathy or distance,” she said. “It’s tempting, but it is useless.”
At the College’s historic 100th Commencement ceremony Sunday, Hughes became the youngest ever recipient of an honorary doctor of humane letters, conferred on her by Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron.
During her remarks, Bergeron told the members of the Class of 2018 that they will always have a special place in her heart, and in the history of the College.
“You students began your journey at Conn just as I was starting my first full year as president,” she said. “And so, I will always think of you, Class of 2018, as my class. The fact that you are also the 100th class has only made that connection more meaningful, because it has grounded our experience in the history of this College.”
Bergeron told the graduates, who were wearing special stoles to commemorate the 100th Commencement, that they embodied the spirit of the pioneering first students who graduated from Connecticut College at the very first Commencement 99 years earlier.
“You seized the opportunity to think and do and lead,” she said, listing numerous impressive accomplishments. “You joined forces with our faculty to create a whole new way of thinking about higher learning through the development of Connections, our reinvention of the liberal arts for the 21st century. In this work, you have left a legacy as lasting as that of the first students who helped to build this College.
“Class of 2018, you truly answered the call. And for that, I will always, always be grateful. So I have just one more thing to ask of you as you prepare to leave this place, and it is this: Never stop answering that call. Never stop putting your liberal arts education into action.”
The graduates were also addressed by Nayla Tohme ’18, a psychology major and an art and gender and women’s studies double minor. Tohme, a scholar in the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, is from Beirut, Lebanon. Citing numerous examples of activism by her fellow graduates, she told her classmates that they are now prepared to be responsible citizens and global leaders.
“Let’s remain committed to acting with integrity, courage and empathy as we strive to empower those who have no voice,” she said. “Let’s hold on to our cultural curiosity and remember how interconnected and interdependent we all are. Let us not reduce a complex situation to a single narrative of ‘good or evil,’ of ‘with us or against us,’ but continue instead to be well informed and impartial as we advocate for social justice and equity.”
During the ceremony, the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for most outstanding honors thesis was awarded to Micaela Nee ’18, an art and psychology double major from Hanover, Massachusetts, for her thesis, “Tracing Nostalgia: Wonder Bread, Wistful Desire, and Whiteness.” In a series of oil paintings, colored pencil drawings and collage drawings, Nee re-contextualized mid-century American advertisements to show how these images perpetuated and enforced a culture of white supremacy, and to expose the historical surroundings that have been filtered over time. By connecting whitewashed images with appropriate historical imagery, Nee revealed how idealized, biased and selective advertising creates a nostalgia for a reality that didn’t exist for most Americans, and explored the inherent dangers of nostalgia and collective memory.
The College awarded the Anna Lord Strauss Medal for outstanding public or community service, including service to the College, to Lysandra Saldaña ’18, an American studies major from Phoenix, Arizona. Saldaña, who also completed the requirements for a secondary education teaching certification from the State of Connecticut, has demonstrated a deep and sincere commitment to community building, advancing local and global cross-cultural competencies, and furthering positive youth development. Saldaña has conducted research on education and tutored and taught in New London schools during all four years of her collegiate career. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, she has served in a variety of other leadership and mentorship roles on campus, including as a senior fellow in the Office of Sustainability and as an intern with the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity. Saldaña also served on the working group that designed and implemented the new Social Justice and Sustainability Integrative Pathway.
The College’s highest honor, the Connecticut College medal, was conferred on Board of Trustees Chair Pamela D. Zilly ’75 for her exemplary service and unparalleled leadership during 13 years of distinguished service on the Connecticut College Board of Trustees. Zilly joined the Board in 2005 and became chair in 2012. During her tenure, the College completed a state-of-the-art science center, renovated the Charles E. Shain Library, opened the Otto and Fran Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement, and launched Connections, the College’s reinvention of the liberal arts. Zilly also served as chair of the Finance Committee and led the 2012-13 Presidential Search Committee. Zilly will retire from the Board of Trustees on June 30, and will co-chair the College’s next comprehensive campaign.
The College also awarded an honorary bachelor of humane letters, honoris causa, to Kathryn Klein Briger ’63 for her considerable achievements in her life after Connecticut College, including a notable career in finance and a commitment to community service. A former hedge fund manager, Briger spent more than 20 years on Wall Street. Since her retirement, she has worked tirelessly to promote education, mentorship and full participation in her communities.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Anna Misao McGregor ’18 and MaryClare McDonough ’18 sang the traditional Alma Mater before Bergeron surprised the crowd by performing a victory song she wrote as a special 100th Commencement gift to the College. Joining the president in this performance were McGregor, McDonough, Stephanie Foster ’18 and Julia Tackett ’18, along with the Constitution Brass Quintet and Chris Kent on drums. Earlier in the program, Foster and Tackett sang America the Beautiful.
Commencement events began Saturday with the induction of 44 graduating seniors into Phi Beta Kappa, the national academic honor society; certificate ceremonies for senior scholars in the College’s five centers for interdisciplinary scholarship; and special gatherings for student-athletes and Posse scholars. Baccalaureate, the annual celebration of the spiritual diversity of the graduating class, was Saturday afternoon and featured a faculty keynote addresses by Lynch Professor of Government and International Relations Alex Hybel and an alumni keynote address by Debo Adegbile ’91, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Now graduates, members of the Class of 2018 are heading to locations around the world to pursue a diverse range of opportunities. Two have received Fulbright fellowships to Malaysia and Germany, and one alumnus has been awarded a Teaching Assistant Program in France fellowship. Members of the class have been accepted to graduate programs at Brown, Harvard, Cornell, New York University, University of California Los Angeles, Villanova, Georgia Tech and the University of Glasgow, while others have accepted positions at companies and organizations including Amazon, CitiBank, Pfizer, Teach for America, Aetna, Vogue, Tufts Medical Center, UBS, Wayfair, Travelers, Unilever and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
For more on Commencement, visit www.conncoll.edu/commencement.