Commencement at College of the Atlantic is held under a tent on the North Lawn.Commencement at College of the Atlantic is held under a tent on the North Lawn.Tong, who was Kiribatian president from 2003-2016, has worked internationally to raise awareness about catastrophic climate change impacts. With an average height of seven feet above sea level, Kiribati, along with other South Pacific islands, faces imminent threats from rising sea levels — a result of climate change. Tong has also been a strong advocate for healthy oceans, creating the 158,000-square-mile Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which was inscribed as a United Nations World Heritage site in 2008.

College of the Atlantic president Darron Collins '92 addresses the graduating class in 2017.College of the Atlantic president Darron Collins '92 addresses the graduating class in 2017.“President Anote Tong’s intellect, imagination, and dedication to his people and country are inspirational,” said College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92. “With his leadership in the global movements to address the pernicious threats of climate change and to protect the world’s oceans, Mr. Tong has shown strength, resolve, and clarity. We are delighted to host him at commencement this year.”

Botanists, performers, conservationists, writers, linguists, policy analysts, historians, wellness practitioners, veterinarians, and organic farmers are among the degree candidates. More than 60 percent of the senior class has had an international academic experience during their tenure here.

Providing student perspectives at the ceremony will be seniors Ivy Enoch ’18, Kiera O’Brien ’18, and Gaia Lopez Barerra ’18. Matthew Kennedy ’18 will provide the welcome, and Aura Silva Martinez ’18 will introduce Mr. Tong.

“This year’s graduating class represents some of the best and brightest students we have had the privilege to educate,” Collins said. “Like thousands before them, these 78 unique expressions of human ecology will venture forth to help shape the future of communities across the world, and I could not be more proud. Seeing these students walk across the stage to receive their degree is the perfect reminder of why we do what we do here at COA.”

The program will begin with a bagpipe processional by the Anah Highlanders. COA co-founder and founding trustee Lew Brewer is the 2018 Grand Marshal.

His Excellency Anote Tong, fourth president of the Republic of Kiribati, is the keynote speaker for College of the Atlantic's 45th commencement.His Excellency Anote Tong, fourth president of the Republic of Kiribati, is the keynote speaker for College of the Atlantic's 45th commencement. Credit: Sam BeebeHonorary Master of Philosophy degrees in human ecology will be granted to Tong, Christine Zinnemann, who is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Kiribati and Special Advisor to His Excellency Anote Tong, and Cindy Stella Wiesner is a 25-year veteran of the social justice movement in the U.S. and internationally who currently serves as the national coordinator of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

The Laurel books and awards ceremony, held the day before graduation, will feature seniors Maxime Lowe ’18, Keaton Daniel ’18, and Jenna Farineau ’18.

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. All food waste is composted.

College of the Atlantic is premised on the belief that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is to enabling students to actively shape the future. A leader in experiential learning and environmental stewardship, COA was named the #1 Green College in the U.S. by The Princeton Review and the Sierra Club in 2016 and 2017. Every COA student designs their own major in human ecology—which integrates knowledge from across academic disciplines and seeks to understand and improve the relationships between humans and their natural, built, and social environments—and sets their own path toward a degree.