Truth Muller ’21 is all smiles during College of the Atlantic's 48th commencement ceremony.Truth Muller ’21 is all smiles during College of the Atlantic's 48th commencement ceremony. Credit: Olivia Paruk ’24

The hybrid event was held under a tent with scores of staff, faculty, and students in attendance. While most graduates participated in person, several students and speakers participated remotely, while friends and family watched from locations around the world.

The ceremony included an address from United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, student perspectives, and the granting of honorary degrees.

COA President Darron Collins ’92COA President Darron Collins ’92Reflecting on the challenges presented by COVID-19, COA President Darron Collins ’92 compared recent times to the Mount Desert Island Fire of ’47 and the 1983 fire at COA that nearly closed down the college, and expressed optimism that the COA community would emerge stronger and more resilient, just as people in those times did.

“We’ve been in the most heat-intensive crucible through the past 15 months of this pandemic. And at the same time, we’ve been exposed to flames of reckoning around racial violence and justice, in our country and at COA as an institution. And we’ve survived all of this because of you… and thank god you’re here. Because only with you here, present, could we have started down the long road of creating an antiracist, equitable, and inclusive human ecology here at COA.”

Student speakers Abigail Jo Morris ’21, Javone Kelia Love ’21, and Gaelen Toran Hall ’21 reflected on strength, resilience, and hope, while also probing some of the challenges faced by the college.

COA graduates, led by Ursa Beckford ’17 on bagpipes, process from the tent with their newly min...COA graduates, led by Ursa Beckford ’17 on bagpipes, process from the tent with their newly minted Bachelor of Arts degrees in human ecology following the school's 48th commencement ceremony.

Love, who served as a resident advisor, teaching assistant, member of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) working groups, and founder of the COA Black Student Union, said that more decisive action needs to happen around DEI issues, including student food insecurity, the local affordable housing crisis, and institutional anti-racism policy development.

Javone Kelia Love ’21Javone Kelia Love ’21“Behind these issues and many more, you will find students, faculty, and staff working to solve them… not because they want to, but because they have to. If we don’t do it, it won’t happen,” Love said. “But why is it on us to hold the burden of COA’s lack of effort to alleviate these problems, while also trying to cope with the impact these problems have on us? I love COA, but that love and pride is not enough. Action needs to happen, and it needs to start happening now.”

In a brief keynote speech delivered from her home in New Mexico, Secretary Haaland praised the graduates for their focus on human ecology — which seeks to understand and improve the relationships between humans and their natural, built, and social environments — as timely preparation for combating the climate emergency, which has been a focus of her career and is a key part of US President Joe Biden’s goals.

“The focus of study at College of the Atlantic will be crucial as we all work to ‘Build Back Better,’” Haaland said. “I know that the tasks ahead will not be fast or easy, but I know we’re up for the challenge with leaders like you coming into the workforce. You all are not just the leaders of tomorrow, though, your generation is leading the efforts to protect our planet today, and I’m here to support those efforts.”

Under the tent with peers, faculty, and staff for COA commencement 2021.Under the tent with peers, faculty, and staff for COA commencement 2021.

Haaland also spoke about her collaborative work with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree ’79 (D-Maine) on legislation that supports sustainable agricultural processes.

Honorary degrees were awarded to longtime COA Dean of Administration Andy Griffiths, who retired recently, and Amber Tamm Canty (’17), whose studies at COA were cut short by family tragedy. Collins recognized two outgoing faculty members during his talk: Charles Eliot Professor of Ecological Planning, Policy and Design Isabel Mancinelli, who began at COA in 1991, and COA Composer-in-Residence John Cooper, who has taught at COA since 1989. He also noted the retirement of COA Assistant Director of Buildings and Grounds Bob Nolan, who began at COA in 1988.

“Just know the impact you’ve had on the seniors here and on the institution writ large, and that it is enormous, and permanent,” he said to the three. “Thank you.”

Former COA administrative dean and chief financial officer Andy Griffiths.Former COA administrative dean and chief financial officer Andy Griffiths.Also taking part in the commencement ceremony were Katrine Østerby ’21 and COA Board of Trustees chairman Phil Moriarty, who provided welcome addresses, Sage Leafsong ’21, who introduced Secretary Haaland, and COA Associate Dean Bonnie Tai, who provided warm introductions to the honorary degree recipients.

In his remarks, Collins recognized “all of the parents, guardians, friends, and family ‘out there,’ who definitely should be ‘in here.’”

“In limiting the in-person event to faculty, staff, and students, we chose what we thought was the best path—one of caution and equity,” Collins said. “I know for sure that such choices had painful results. We know for sure that a livestream is a woefully inadequate portrayal of life. But, to you as loved ones, we recognize that none of this would be possible without the love, support, and kindness you’ve given these students.”