US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native A...US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native American to serve on the US presidential cabinet, will give the keynote address during COA's hybrid 2021 commencement ceremony.

A total of 81 students from 20 states and 14 nations will graduate from COA during the ceremony, which will be held live under a tent on the North Lawn of campus. The ceremony will follow gathering guidelines from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Maine, with attendance limited to the in-person community. The ceremony will be livestreamed on for family members, friends, neighbors, and
others who have not been part of the spring term COVID-19 testing protocols.

Future performers, educators, entrepreneurs, conservationists, writers, artists, scientists, and health and wellness practitioners are among the candidates for a bachelor of arts and a master of philosophy in COA’s one major, human ecology.

“This has been an academic year like no other in the history of the college, and our entire community has shown incredible resilience and willingness to adapt,” said COA President Darron Collins ’92. “I hope everyone will join me in congratulating our seniors for showing such strength in the face of adversity, and for being committed to learning and living the principles of human ecology during these challenging times.”

Receiving honorary master’s degrees in human ecology at the ceremony will be Amber Tamm (’17) and former COA Dean of Administration Andy Griffiths.

Tamm, best known for her visionary A Farm in Central Park project, shares her life as a testament to the idea that the Earth provides abundance. Her work is to guide communities near and far, especially low-income communities of color, to connect with and discover pathways for careers working with the Earth.

Griffiths was COA’s chief financial officer for 15 years until his retirement in 2019. His presence and contributions were so appreciated that upon his retirement, COA announced the Andrew S. Griffiths Chair for the Dean of Administration in his honor, with nearly every staff and faculty member at the college contributing to its creation.

Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican.

Like many single parents, Haaland had to rely on food stamps at times, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, she enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and later her JD. Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans.

Throughout her career in public service, Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations. After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, she became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, where she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 by Mount Desert Island residents on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is to enabling students to actively shape its future. The college’s transdisciplinary, non-departmental curriculum emphasizes individualized study, independent research, and real-world application of knowledge. Every COA student graduates with either a B.A. or M.Phil. in human ecology—the study of the relationships between humans and our natural, social, and built environments—but each student’s path to the degree is unique.