Colby-Sawyer College celebrated its 185th Commencement on Saturday, May 6, on the college’s New London campus. The ceremony celebrated the graduating students in the Class of 2023 who were awarded 21 associate degrees, 243 bachelor’s degrees and 19 master’s degrees. It also recognized several members of the college and greater community for academic excellence, outstanding contributions to society and service to the college and its students.

In her remarks to the graduates, Colby-Sawyer President Susan D. Stuebner reflected on the resilience of the Class of 2023, the students whose first year in college was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Your college world was turned upside down for two of your four years here at Colby-Sawyer, and yet, you persevered,” Stuebner said. “You found ways to cope with the anxieties of learning in the middle of a pandemic. You supported one another. You pursued your academics despite the altered ways of delivery.”

Ultimately, Stuebner said, the Class of 2023 went on to achieve great things. “You truly have towered over your circumstances and shown extraordinary resilience,” she said.

Student speaker Caleigh Dirks from Danvers, Mass., who gave an address titled “The Pudding,” echoed Stuebner’s sentiment and assured her fellow graduates that COVID-19 was not what defined their class. “Make no mistake, our future is bright, Class of 2023,” she told her fellow graduates. “We are not defined by our past but are transformed by it.”

As recipient of the Jack Jensen Award for Excellence in Teaching, School of Business & Social Sciences Professor Randy Hanson delivered the Commencement Address, titled “‘Come now, let us reason together’: One Last Class With the Graduates of 2023.” Hanson, a professor of history, spoke to the graduates about freedom.

“Free individuals thrive best in a world where freedom is cherished and cultivated as a common good for all,” Hanson said. “In that spirit, we cannot stand aside. Together, we must ensure that everyone enjoys freedom’s bounties, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, the color of their skin, national or ethnic origin, their social class or religion, accent or age, or any of those fake essentializing characteristics we fabricate to stand in the way of true human community.”

Several individuals were honored for significant achievement during the 90-minute ceremony. Jenna Guilmain ’23, a nursing major from Haverhill, N.H., received the David H. Winton Baccalaureate Award for ranking highest in scholarship in the graduating class. Crime and legal studies major Isabelle Silva ’23 from Danvers, Mass., received the Colby-Sawyer Award, which is given to the graduate who, in the opinion of the faculty, best exemplifies the ideals of the college in personal dignity, intellectual growth, contribution to campus life and constructive influence on other students.

Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Hearst Eve Burton received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, which recognizes an individual of humanitarian character and superior intellect whose life and work have brought about positive, far-reaching change for individuals and organizations. Burton serves as president of the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, which sponsors the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network, a pioneering program cultivating leadership in young women in college and beyond. Through investments totaling more than $4 million at Colby-Sawyer alone, the organization has provided invaluable support to the career goals of female, first-generation college students.

Retiring Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculty Laura Sykes ’23 was awarded the Susan Colgate Cleveland Medal for Distinguished Service, the college’s highest honor. Sykes is leaving the college after 30 years of service, first as director of the Hogan Sports Center, then as a faculty member and department chair of environmental studies and finally as academic vice president, a role she has held for the past seven years.

More information about this year's award winners is available on the Commencement website.