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Protests, Fatality Have Minor Role in Graduation Ceremony

Hanover — Signs of a tumultuous and tragic spring were present at Dartmouth College’s graduation commencement yesterday, but all ceremonies ran smoothly and without disruption.

Earlier this spring, protests on campus brought issues of sexual assault, racism, and homophobia to the forefront of Dartmouth discourse.

At least one graduate left the stage after receiving a diploma holding up a sign that read “dissent” in all capital letters, a possible reference to the protests organized by Real Talk Dartmouth. The protests were also referenced briefly by Interim President Carol Folt and in more detailed fashion by valedictorian Anna Marie Morenz.

Morenz, former co-chairwoman of the Dartmouth Outing Club, spoke about how her affiliation with some of the protesters who were also members of the outdoors group changed her way of thinking about the diversity of the human experience.

“In a way that felt much more alive than studying these issues in the classroom, I puzzled over my privilege and class and analyzed my subjective lens into campus life as part of the (Dartmouth Outing Club) community,” said Morenz of her discussions with Real Talk protesters who were also members of the outing club. “ ... My initial anger and righteousness evaporated in the undeniable heat of the painful moments spoken and unspoken on campus and beyond that had accumulated for them, day after day, and that I had been lucky not to experience or had been blind to perceive.

“I realized then that there is something powerful and irreplaceable about hearing stories in person; not over the Internet, or the newspaper, or through someone else’s voice. I believe in change happening at that level, between two people talking and listening.”

Folt referenced the day of reflection that followed the cancellation of classes due to the protest, through the lens of a painting by a Dartmouth student titled, “The Space Between.”

“You embraced the (day of reflection) and helped to create breathing space,” said Folt, “Space between the events in our day, to look each other in the eye with respect to build a more inclusive future.”

In the opening prayer of yesterday’s graduation ceremonies, College Chaplain Richard Crocker alluded to the last week’s drowning near Patchen’s Point in Norwich, where Ernest Amoh, the 20-year-old younger brother of Dartmouth graduate Justice Amoh, lost his life. Justice Amoh was present at yesterday’s ceremonies, where he received a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a bachelor’s degree in the arts.

Crocker said yesterday that the day was marked by “hearts full of gratitude, sadness, and hope.” The sadness, he said, was “for opportunities missed, the prospect of parting, and the painful absence of loved ones who are only here in spirit.”

He later went on to conclude the prayer, “And so, great God, source of all, in whom we live and move and have our being, we offer today our full hearts of gratitude, sadness, and hope, and sighs too deep for words.”

Michael Altamirano, who received his degree in government and public policy yesterday, said that he was expecting a “more explicit reference” to Amoh’s death in the opening prayer.

“(Justice Amoh) got a lot of applause for (receiving his degree) so it was certainly brought to the fore then, but I don’t think it’s on everyone’s mind,” he said.

Patricia Liverpool, a Washington native who received her degrees in applied math and sociology, also said she didn’t think the events of this spring were weighing on the minds of the graduates yesterday.

“I think people talk about it, but we don’t really dwell on it,” she said.

Dylan Calhoun, one of yesterday’s graduates and a music major, said he didn’t think the recent death of Ernest Amoh or protests “were really reflected in the mood today.

“Obviously, those that we lost, we keep them in our hearts,” said Calhoun, who also mentioned Crispin Scott, a class of 2013 student who died while studying abroad last year.

Calhoun added that he’s “not in the circles that would have been affected” by the death of Amoh, aside from being in the same graduating class as his older brother.

“I think right now everyone’s just living in nostalgia-land, trying to get the most out of our last few moments here,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what my friends are trying to do.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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