The College of the Atlantic class of 2017.The College of the Atlantic class of 2017.

A total of 70 students from 25 states and 15 nations were joined by nearly 1,000 family members, friends, and alumni to celebreate College of the Atlantic’s annual commencement.

Poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib wove threads of pop music, national politics, personal experience, and history into his uplifting keynote address, while COA’s three student speakers brought laughter, tears and applause with their college reflections.

2017 commencement keynote speaker Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib enjoying the spring weather in COA's Newlin Gardens.2017 commencement keynote speaker Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib enjoying the spring weather in COA's Newlin Gardens.Urging graduates to make mistakes, to heed the call to action, and to just as strongly heed the call for rest and repair, Willis-Abdurraqib sought to provide optimism and clarity in the national and international sea of turmoil graduates might feel themselves afloat in.

“These are times when living well some days is moving the needle,” Willis-Abdurraqib said. “I want you to make the world better by building your own world, and making that better, each and every day you can. I want you to know that there is more to the world than what it asks us to endure, or survive. There are days that require activism and action, of course, but there are days that require Netflix and a couch. And I want all of us to be able to celebrate both of those in equal measure.”

COA film professor Nancy Andrews drew hearty cheers from the crowd as she led the graduation processional as Grand Marshall in a rainbow-striped suit. “Thank you,” she said humorously, “for making me grand marshall of this Pride parade,” to even more cheers and applause.

Honorary Master of Philosophy degrees in human ecology were granted to Willis-Abdurraqib, Dr. Etta Kralovec, an Associate Professor of Teacher Education and Program Director of Graduate Teacher Education at the University of Arizona South, and Cathy Johnson ’74, a Senior Staff Attorney and Forests and Wildlife Project Director at Natural Resources Council of Maine, and a member of COA’s first graduating class.

COA senior Porcia Manandhar provides a student perspective at the 2017 commencement ceremony.COA senior Porcia Manandhar provides a student perspective at the 2017 commencement ceremony.

Johnson, who has been on the vanguard of the effort to make Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument a reality, said that it was the residents of the area that really deserve the credit.

“It was a long journey and I was privileged to work with so many wonderful people in the Katahdin region and across the state,” she said. “So I share today’s honor with all of those residents of the Katahdin region who were truly on the front lines of this campaign for years.” 

Botanists, musicians, educators, entrepreneurs, lawyers, writers, artists, designers, scientists, public policy analysts, physicians, and organic farmers were among the candidates for a bachelor of arts and a master of philosophy in COA’s one major, human ecology.

Providing student perspectives at the ceremony were seniors Amber Wolf, Zak Kendall, and Porcia Manandhar. Senior Haleigh Paquette offered a call-and-response welcoming song, while senior Jasmine Bourgeois introduced Willis-Abdurraqib.

COA President Darron Collins ’92 provided opening remarks for the ceremony, exploring the need for balance between love and labor, and pushing the graduates to find their labor of love.

“My favorite thought on labor and love is from the public scholar Marina Popova, who said, ‘Labor without love dooms one to the hamster wheel of productivity, that vacant counterpoint to creativity. Love without labor begets infinite procrastination, the death kiss of ideation.’ That is why ours is a project-based curriculum here at COA – to cultivate the right balance between labor and love,” Collins said.

Cheering for the graduates at College of the Atlantic's 2017 commencement celebration.Cheering for the graduates at College of the Atlantic's 2017 commencement celebration.

“All of you came to COA with at least the germ of some labor of love and this place, this community nourished that germ through the projects you undertook here. I cannot wait to watch your greatest labors and loves unfold as you go off to the wider world,” Collins continued. “Last year I described COA graduates as ‘wonderful, contemplatively scrappy, humble activists.’ But with another year of reflection, I call you ‘wonderful, contemplatively scrappy humble activists all inspired to find and pursue your own unique labor of love.’ Now go do it.”

Senior Zak Kendall recalls his time at College of the Atlantic during the 2017 commencement ceremony.Senior Zak Kendall recalls his time at College of the Atlantic during the 2017 commencement ceremony.While a spring rainstorm pelted the tent during the ceremony, the clouds parted and the skies cleared just as it ended, providing superb weather for the celebration at COA’s Newlin Gardens. COA’s kitchen staff created an incredible array of appetizers for the event.

Willis-Abdurraqib has been published in Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full-length collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released in June 2016 by Button Poetry, and was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book prize. He is also a columnist at MTV News.

Johnson received her JD from the University of Maine School of Law in 1983 and was a trial lawyer before joining the NRCM staff in 1990. Over her 27-year career with the organization, she has led visible public campaigns as well as advanced, behind-the-scenes efforts to protect the great North Woods of Maine.

Kralovec taught educational studies, literature, and women’s studies at College of the Atlantic from 1988 through 1999, while also serving as the director of COA’s educational studies program. She holds a doctorate in philosophy from Teachers College, Columbia University, and her books include The End of Homework (Beacon Press, 2001), Schools That Do Too Much (Beacon Press, 2004), and Identity in Metamorphosis (Nova Science Pub Inc., 2009).

Senior Amber Wolf speaks to the gathered crowds at COA's 2017 commencement.Senior Amber Wolf speaks to the gathered crowds at COA's 2017 commencement.As part of the college’s commitment to sustainability, COA celebrations always consider environmental impacts. All paper used at the commencement is recycled, all disposable tableware is composted, no bottled water is served, and as much food as possible is organic and locally sourced. Leftover food from the celebration is delivered to a local food pantry and shelter, and all food waste is composted. COA’s discarded resources workstudy crew worked tirelessly to ensure that as little waste as possible was produced at the event.

College of the Atlantic is the first college in the U.S. to focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. In 2016, both The Princeton Review and the Sierra Club named College of the Atlantic the #1 Green College in the United States. The intentionally small school of 350 students and 35 faculty members offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology – the study of how humans interact with our natural, social and technological environments. Each student develops their own course of study in human ecology, collaborating and innovating across multiple disciplines.
COA's discarded resources workstudy crew is all hands on deck for a nearly zero-waste graduation!COA's discarded resources workstudy crew is all hands on deck for a nearly zero-waste graduation! Credit: Lise Desrochers