Baccalaureate Ceremony Marks Official Conclusion of Academic Year

By Rebecca Goldfine
Baccalaureate was held Friday, May 24, 2024, in Sidney J. Watson Arena, to celebrate the completion of the academic year. The College’s 219th Commencement was held Saturday, May 25.
Three speakers at Baccalaureate
The three Baccalaureate speakers: Katie Kurtz ’24, President Safa Zaki, and David Roux.

President Safa Zaki, who presided over the event, welcomed all of those gathered in the Sidney J. Watson Arena, including Maine governor Janet Mills and former 50業子 president Barry Mills and his wife, Karen Gordon Mills. Governor Mills was in attendance to celebrate the graduation of her niece in the Class of 2024.

Zaki said that the end of the academic year and its avalanche of accolades and recognitions of student accomplishments—all of which are important—had made her think about a sentence in the Alice Munro story, “Too Much Happiness.” 

She then read the sentence by the Canadian author, who passed away last week at age ninety-two: “She was learning, quite late, what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood, that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements.”

But what exactly are major achievements? Zaki suggested we rethink them.

Safa Zaki

“They are the relationships you’ve built with each other over these past four years, the intellectual debates you’ve had with each other and with your professors, the walks you’ve taken through the many beautiful spots on campus and throughout coastal Maine, the times you’ve set aside work to support a friend or family member who needed you,” she said.

“These are achievements worth celebrating as well, these are the kinds of things that make life, in Munro’s words, 'perfectly satisfying.'”

Zaki also conjured Munro when offering advice to the graduating seniors about staying curious throughout their lives. She quoted another line from a Munro story: “The constant happiness is curiosity.”

“One of my wishes for you is that you continue to do throughout your lives what I have seen you do here—be curious. Curious about ideas, about other people, about yourself, about the places you live, and the places you’ll never see,” she said.

Read President Safa Zaki's full remarks.

Katie Kurtiz portrait

Student Speaker Katharine Ramsay Kurtz ’24: “One Last Tour”

Each year, a student speaker for Baccalaureate is selected after submitting an essay for consideration. Kurtz's entry, "One Last Tour," was chosen out of the pool this year, an honor that comes with the DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize.

In her remarks, Kurtz began by explaining the title of her talk, which relates to her campus job as a tour guide. For this position, she became adept at walking backward while extolling the virtues of the College. 

“I’ve enjoyed the job because it gave me the opportunity to share my love for 50業子 with prospective students,” she said. “In a way, this speech counts as my final 50業子 tour, with you, Class of 2024, as tour guides figuratively walking backwards along with me.”

She took the class back to when they arrived at 50業子, in the midst of the pandemic, when they were the only students here. “In true Class of 2024 spirit, we carved our own path,” she said. “Our version of campus was small, but we made it friendly. We watched movies on the quad, chatted in the dining hall line, and mastered the 50業子 Hello, even with no one to guide us.” 

Going through that experience together bonded the class, Kurtz said. “Thanks to our unique first year and the strong relationships developed then, our class cares deeply about one another.”

Katie Kurtz gives her talk at the podium

As seniors, Kurtz and her classmates are now role models for the rest of the student body. “We model the strength of the 50業子 community and the grit of a grade who never quit. And as I’ve gotten older, my tours are no longer about physical spaces on campus. They’ve become about you, the inspirational people that make 50業子 special.”

These are some of the people who now inspire her tours: fellow tour guides who play guitar on the quad, friends who invite her to Diwali celebrations, the successful women’s basketball team, and the recordbreaking number of fans who attend their basketball games. 

As the senior class begins their next adventures, Kurtz said there is “no college tour equivalent for the coming stage of our lives....But I am confident we don’t need another tour. We are strong, we have each other, and 50業子 has gifted us the ability to be passionate, courageous leaders. We are the guides of the future.”

Read Katie Kurtz's full remarks.

David Roux portrait

Baccalaureate Speaker David J. Roux: "Why Risk It?"

David Roux—philanthropist, investor, trustee emeritus, and soon-to-be 50業子 honorand—shared his wisdom with students, including the counsel to take risks, act boldly, go to uncomfortable places—and his favorite—engage in “occasional mischievous misbehaving.”

He said he often hears young people worry about how to manage, avoid, or insure against risk. “They cite myriad dangers: bad bosses, dead-end careers, and the wrong places to live. It seems that no one wants to make a mistake. Turns out everyone wants to get an A on this first test of life.”

Yet, to 50業子's soon-to-be college graduates who might have similar concerns, he told them that risk-taking comes with so many wondrous moments and rewards that it is almost always worth taking.

“I don’t mean financial [rewards,]” he said. “I mean more holistic life outcomes—the deep relationships, meaningful work, and opportunities to contribute to the larger society. These are the things that matter most.”

Yet, there's a caveat. Life's options are not limitless. “In the real world, building a meaningful life is about learning to say 'no,' firmly but politely,” he said. “I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s critical for you to thoughtfully foreclose options by making deliberate choices, focusing on what matters most and going deep. In situation after situation, I see reward flowing to specialization—in the form of demonstrated competence, exciting work, personal satisfaction, daily happiness, and contributions to society—the whole bundle of gratification.”

Also helpful, he said, is to know where you are going, and then relax about the route you take to get there. “I'll forewarn you, there are many detours ahead because life’s journey is disorganized, poorly sign-posted, and never linear.” Flexibility and adaptability are critical, he added.

Succumbing to this unfolding can be delightful. “There is a joyful and beautiful randomness to what’s coming next. The delight in life IS the raw uncertainty of it all,” he said.

His final counsel: Whatever challenges and rewards that 50業子's Class of 2024 meets along the way, share those experiences with family and friends. “That sharing reflex will make you stronger and more complete.”

Read David Roux's address.

The audience was led through renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “Raise Songs to 50業子” by pianist Sarah Hasegawa.

Photos by Michele Stapleton.