New London — On a green-gold Saturday morning, the 68th commencement ceremony for New London's Mitchell College took place on the school's nail-clipped green. It was as fine a meteorological recipe to start that "first day of the rest of your life" campaign as one could ask for.
The two-hour ceremony, held in front of Duquès Academic Success Center with the spangled Thames River to one side, had the energy and mood of a summer park concert or a clam bake at the shore. The Eastern Connecticut Symphony Brass Quintet performed tunes like "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in mellow contrast to the sounds of a Little League baseball game across the street. Dogs and toddlers gamboled on the perimeter and friends and family members, many holding balloons and flowers, fanned out behind the area reserved for the graduates.
Mitchell conferred 190 bachelor degrees — a record number since the college started its bachelor program in 2000. Twenty-two associate degrees were also handed out.
Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy, executive director emeritus of the Washington, D.C.,-based National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, delivered a folksy but passionate commencement address, describing how, in her extensive experience, Mitchell students embody in these self-absorbed times a rare spirit of "Generation We" rather than "Generation Me."
Having spent considerable time meeting with students on the Mitchell campus in February, Dungy, who received an honorary Ph.D. from Mitchell, briefly but effectively captured the Mitchell student body's collective spirit by describing five different students.
Their respective experiences and goals, Dungy said, combined to demonstrate the hunger for "an education that has contributed to your now being able to leave college with skills and a sense of compassion for the most vulnerable as well as a sense of agency to repair or redo what seems to be broken in our social, economic and political systems."
Before the opening processional, Dungy waited alongside Mitchell President Mary Ellen Jukoski and L. Richard Milner, a member of the college's board of trustees who received a Distinguished Service Award during ceremonies Friday.
Jukoski said she wasn't remotely nervous about the ceremony.
"I absolutely slept wonderfully last night," she said. "This is one of my favorite days on campus, when you see so many smiling faces who have earned the right to be proud."
Milner was touched that the campus dining hall was renamed in his honor.
"It's very cool," he said. "I haven't been the leader of the band, but we needed very much to improve student life here, and it means a lot." He jokingly added that, while he doesn't expect to be able to eat free, a small coffee stipend would be fun.
Also on Friday, Richard Carlson '64 received the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Joshua D. Mattei, a communication major who graduated cum laude, delivered the student address. He called his time at Mitchell an experience in "true community" and said that among the many things he learned during his matriculation was that "simply believing in yourself and your goals can take you a long way."
Valedictorian for the bachelor's program was Christopher Herbette, an environmental studies major from West Simsbury. The bachelor's salutatorian was Richard Cheatham, a business administration major and graphic design/marketing minor from New London.
The valedictorian in the associate program was Anxhela Kodra, an environmental studies major from Waterford, while the salutatorian was Erik Fiedler, a graphic design major from Norwich.