At Colby-Sawyer, a Ceremony Marked by Contrasts

  • Senior Marc-Andre Parent, right, proposes to his girlfriend, Casey Gunter, a 2014 Colby-Sawyer College alumna, during the commencement ceremony in New London, N.H., on May 7, 2016. She said yes. (Concord Monitor - Elizabeth Frantz)
     

  • Members of the Class of 2016 celebrate after receiving their degrees during the Colby-Sawyer College commencement ceremony in New London, N.H., on May 7, 2016. (Concord Monitor - Elizabeth Frantz)

  • Outgoing Colby-Sawyer College President Thomas C. Galligan Jr., speaks to the Class of 2016 during the commencement ceremony in New London, N.H., on May 7, 2016. (Concord Monitor - Elizabeth Frantz)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2016 8:51:16 PM
Modified: 5/8/2016 12:16:24 AM

New London — While speaking to a rapt crowd at Colby-Sawyer College, beneath a large open tent in the chilly, wet morning air, professor Hilary Walrod recalled her own college graduation as a strange blend of excitement and loss.

“Graduation felt to me as much like being kicked out as being celebrated,” she said, a preamble to her efforts to impart a final bit of wisdom before the college loosed 325 beaming graduates upon the world.

Just moments before she delivered the address, Walrod, who joined the Colby-Sawyer faculty to teach fine and performing arts in 2012, was honored with the college’s highest teaching award during the ceremony.

Her words of advice, which were founded on the design principle of contrast, took on extra meaning for a ceremony that was marked by unusually emotional highs and lows.

While at Colby-Sawyer, Walrod said, the students’ experiences with “happiness, joy, contentment and health,” were meaningful only when contrasted against “times of sadness, devastation, malaise and illness, which we are all likely to encounter during a life well-lived.”

The sentiment took on added poignance when outgoing President Thomas C. Galligan Jr. noted the absence of Melissa Joy Molin, a West Hartford, Conn., resident who was scheduled to receive a psychology degree but died in a car crash on Interstate 89 in April.

“She is physically missing from the ranks of the graduating seniors she called classmates, teammates, roommates and friends,” Galligan said, “But she is absolutely here in spirit.”

An empty chair was the focus of a moment of silence, during which the soft tinkling of a metal clasp against a flagpole outside the tent — the flag was lowered to half-staff the day of Molin’s death — was the only sound.

“Today, we celebrate her accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of all of the graduates,” said Galligan.

When Molin’s name was called, her sister, Rebecca Molin, accepted the diploma in her honor, to a standing ovation.

In speaking on contrasts, Walrod also encouraged graduates to accept both the fast-paced demands of their professional lives and the more quiet moments of self-reflection that help define life’s meaning.

“Shifting gears, whether it be between tasks, projects, activities, roles and phases in our lives, is how balance actually happens,” Walrod said.

“We can all benefit from the change of pace or scene, contrasting productivity with play, or activity with reflection.”

One prominent member of the Colby-Sawyer community who is shifting gears is Galligan himself, who announced his pending departure in September; this summer, he plans to begin a new life as dean of the Louisiana State University’s law school.

Galligan will be succeeded by Susan Stuebner, currently the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College.

In his welcoming remarks, Galligan made only a brief reference to the fact that this will be his last commencement at Colby-Sawyer. He invoked a scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, in which Galligan’s favorite literary character of all time, Bilbo Baggins, delivers a speech to the community of his home, the Shire, before slipping on a ring of invisibility and embarking on a great escapade.

“Friends in the Class of 2016, in a while, we will put on the ring. In a while, we will leave here for new adventures. I hope and I know,” Galligan said, “we have made our mark.”

Walrod ended her speech by emphasizing the contrast between intention and serendipity.

“Live simultaneously with intention, by planning for what you want, and serendipity, by being open to what happens. There is much to be gained from living a life that embraces both,” she said.

Not long after, Galligan showed that he could incorporate a serendipitous event into the day’s meticulously planned proceedings.

“We’re going off the script here for just a second. ... One of the hardest things about the job that we have is how many times we have to say no,” he said.

“But this morning, I received a request and I said yes. Will Marc-Andre Parent please come forward?”

Biology student Parent, a 22-year-old with long, unruly hair crushed into a bun above his graduation robe, took the stage.

“This past semester, it was a doozy, let me tell you,” he said. “But one of the people that helped me out the most was — the biggest, biggest help for me was my girlfriend, Casey Gunter, so I wanted to ask her to come up here with me.”

Moments later, as the names of graduates began to be called, Gunter, 24, displayed a diamond engagement ring on a trembling hand to a knot of family and supporters outside the tent.

Gunter, an academic adviser at the Southern New Hampshire University Online, graduated from Colby-Sawyer two years ago.

She tilted her head skyward, her own straight red hair hanging down, so that friends could delicately wipe the moisture from her eyes, without disturbing her makeup, and say the words “Casey Parent” aloud, to see how it sounded.

Parent was one of many graduates, all of them looking ahead toward a life that would be marked by the contrasts Walrod had articulated — the differences between mourning and joy, between the life one knows and the life that lies just ahead, between a day in which one has planned to attend a ceremony and the unexpected serendipity of a public marriage proposal before a cheering crowd of thousands.

“I had no idea,” she said.

Colby-Sawyer graduates from the Upper Valley included: Zachary Kershaw, Enfield; Garrett Dunnells, Georges Mills; Alyssa Goucher, Georges Mills; Aaron Dugan, Grafton; Karley Hamilton, Hanover; Kayann Foster, Lebanon; Patrick Hubein, Lebanon; Shayntel Cormier, New London; Huong Hoang, New London; Tra Le, New London; Ana Paniagua Gayoso, New London; Hoang Phan, New London; Brianna DeFilippis, Newport; Jaclyn Goddette, Newport; Makayla Gosselin, Springfield, N.H.; Heidi Wiest, Sunapee; Avery Hammond, West Lebanon; Luke Aspell, Woodstock.

 

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.




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