BAR HARBOR — A total of 81 students were granted Bachelor of Arts degrees in human ecology from College of the Atlantic during the school’s 48th commencement ceremony on June 5.
The hybrid event was held under a tent with 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.
Reflecting on the challenges presented by COVID-19, COA President Darron Collins 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, Javone Kelia Love and Gaelen Toran Hall reflected on strength, resilience and hope, while also probing some of the challenges faced by the college.
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.
“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 President Joe Biden’s goals.