Published May 23. 2011 4:00AM Updated May 23. 2011 8:10PM
New London - When it was his turn, senior class speaker Charles Wesley said he wasn't ready to give a speech at Sunday's Connecticut College graduation.
"I was told the world would end last night, so I thought I wouldn't have to prepare anything," he joked. "But I'm really glad we're all gathered here."
A theme of connection and bonds ran through the college's centennial commencement, as the 452 graduates of the Class of 2011 received their diplomas before thousands of relatives and friends on Tempel Green in the middle of the school's 750-acre campus.
It began with each graduate receiving an Eastern White Pine sapling as they processed onto the green.
"It symbolizes their ongoing growth and staying connected to the college," said John Burton, professor of anthropology, of the long-standing tradition. The Connecticut College logo features a tree in its design.
The graduates walked through a line of 36 women dressed in white holding a garland of laurel. They represented the Class of 2012.
But the day was about the current class of seniors that had worked so hard to get where they were, school president Leo Higdon said.
"The centennial will always make your class special in my mind, and a special part of Connecticut College's history," Higdon said. "You all, we all, share a very important bond in Connecticut College. This college is yours forever."
Commencement speaker Cynthia Enloe, a graduate of the Class of 1960, spoke of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. The 1911 tragedy, in which 146 people died, occurred weeks before Connecticut College was established, she said.
Enloe stood away from the podium, gesturing as she addressed the graduates, without notes, about the importance of connections, whether it be with classmates or with an unknown person a world away.
"May you thrive," Enloe said. "But may you thrive in a way that enhances the justice, the safety and the dignity of everyone who has made the clothes that you are wearing today."
During his speech, senior speaker Charles Wesley went on to speak of the changing world that the graduates would have a chance to shape.
"Don't shy away from the future ... because it belongs to us," Wesley said. "Camels, I cannot wait to see what our future holds."
After the ceremony, Ben Goldman of Madison, said he earned a degree in physics and would head to graduate school to study mechanical engineering at Duke.
Goldman said his tree sapling would make the trip south with him.
"I'll plant (the tree) in a little bucket outside my apartment in North Carolina," he said.