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Philosopher, feminist and master of intellectual debate Martha Nussbaum told the 440 graduates at Connecticut College's 91st Commencement they should be advocates for the liberal arts.
"The type of liberal education you have received is under assault all over the world in our time of economic anxiety," Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, said. "Spread the word that what happens on this campus is not useless, but crucially relevant to the future of democracy in the nation and the world."
An activist and critic, Nussbaum has long advocated for the importance of an education in the liberal arts.
"If we do not insist on the crucial importance of the humanities and the arts, they will drop away, because they don't make money," Nussbaum said. "They only do what is much more precious than that - make a world that is worth living in, people who are able to see other human beings as equals and nations that are able to overcome fear and suspicion in favor of sympathetic and reasoned debates."
Earlier in the ceremony, which was delayed 90 minutes by inclement weather, the College honored Nussbaum by conferring on her an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon, Jr. also spoke to the graduates about the importance of their education, which, he said, has prepared them to have a meaningful impact in a rapidly changing world. "You are graduating at a pivotal time in history," Higdon said. "In a global economic upheaval, traditional companies and organizations seek to redefine themselves and the work they do. Increasingly, they will look to your generation, and specifically to liberal arts graduates, for answers."
Higdon also encouraged the students to stay connected to the College, to continue to live by the Honor Code and to remain active citizens.
Senior class president Nicholas Downing, of Pittsfield, Mass., told his classmates to embrace the opportunities before them and work to provide those same opportunities to future generations.
"We have been given the privilege of an unmatched education, and we now have the responsibility to use that education to leave the world a little better than it was when we arrived," he said.
During the ceremony, the prestigious Oakes and Louise Ames Prize was awarded to Myles Courtland Green, an art major from Westwood, Mass., for his honors thesis, "Oriental Bittersweet and Other Invasive Species: Americans in North America." The prize, named for a previous president of the college and his wife, is given to a graduating senior who has completed the year's most outstanding honors study.
The equally prestigious Anna Lord Strauss Medal was awarded to Heather Roseann Day, an American studies major from Williamsburg, Mass., for her outstanding record of community and public service work throughout her four years at Connecticut College. Day is a Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy scholar, a leader on campus and a tireless advocate for racial and gender equity. A skilled facilitator for teens and youth, Day has completed internships with several organizations, including the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut Children's Program, Art Start and PeaceJam. She is also a certified domestic violence and sexual assault counselor and has worked for three years at Safe Passage, a shelter for women and children.
The Connecticut College Medal - the highest honor that can be conferred on an individual - was awarded to Ann Werner Johnson, a member of the class of 1968. A Connecticut College Trustee from 1997 to 2007, Johnson has been a strong advocate for important investments in campus infrastructure and facilities. Her leadership was essential to establishing comprehensive benchmarks and priorities for campus improvements and her gifts to the college have made possible a number of important campus renovations, including major renovations to two residence halls.
An honorary doctorate of humane letters was also conferred on Barbara Shattuck Kohn, a member of the class of 1972 and Chair of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees. Under Kohn's leadership, the College has invested in faculty, campus improvements and new programs that enhance the unique strengths of residential liberal arts education. Kohn is a leadership donor to the Annual Fund and strengthened the College by establishing the Barbara Zaccheo Kohn '72 Professorship, supporting the Kresge Foundation Science Endowment Fund and underwriting internships for students in the Goodwin-Niering Center for Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies.
Class of 2009 'By the Numbers'
- 437 Bachelor of Arts degrees
- 3 Master of Arts degrees
Students with multiple majors:
- 132 double majors
- 4 triple majors
States represented: 29
International graduates: 19 from 17 countries
- Summa cum laude graduates: 57
- Magna cum laude graduates: 72
- Cum laude graduates: 97
Students who participated in Study Abroad or Study Away Teach Away: 254 (58% of the class)
Certificates earned from the interdisciplinary academic certificate programs:
- Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology: 7
- Goodwin-Niering Center for Conservation Biology and Environmental Sciences: 12
- Holleran Center's Program in Community Action: 22
- Museum Studies Certificate: 11
- Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts: 22