LEWISTON — “I hope I can inspire America to save all children,” educator, social activist and author Geoffrey Canada said in his keynote address at the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises Sunday morning. 

Speaking before 459 Bates College graduates assembled on the historic quad in front of Coram Library, Canada emphasized that we must eradicate a society “where children don’t have a chance.”

Canada is a visionary American educator whose work has transformed the lives of thousands of inner-city youth in the South Bronx. He said that, through his work, he has tried to make his generation the greatest of all, and although this has not yet been achieved, “I know the promise will be kept.”

He told the Bates graduates that his heroes included Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“Who could not feel obligated to continue their work?” he asked.

As the current president and former CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Canada has focused on education, to which he has brought a holistic approach, addressing not only academics but also health and fitness and the cultures of community and family. He has prepared thousand of disadvantaged youths for success in college.

The New York Times has described HCZ as “one of the most ambitious social-policy experiments of our time.”

In her senior address, Molly C. Chisholm of Boston said Bates College “is a place where kindness is expected,” and it’s also “a place where you can take risks.”

“The world has something to learn from our small college,” she told her classmates.

Bates College President A. Clayton Spencer praised the Class for 2017 for their academic achievements.

“All of this you have done while giving back,” she said.

The Class of 2017 accumulated 80,000 hours of volunteer activity, and students were recipients of 15 Fulbright scholarships, which was among the highest in the nation, she said. 

President Spencer also noted this past year’s undefeated men’s lacrosse season and the winning on Saturday of the women’s rowing programs second national title in three years with a one-point victory over Williams College.

She also thanked “our friends in Lewiston and Auburn who enriched our days.”

Matthew R. Auer, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, introduced each of the honorary degree recipients.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees were presented to Canada, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patrick Dempsey, actor and co-founder of the Dempsey Center, a cancer support facility in Lewiston. Wanda M. Corn, noted art historian and a member of the Bates Class of 1962, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

Collins, a Republican known for her bipartisan efforts, has never missed a Senate roll call vote (more than 6,300). She was raised in Caribou, where the family lumber business dates to 1844.

Spencer called Collins “a Mainer to the core.”

In her introduction of Dempsey, she said his “very real gifts in the healing arts are found right here in Lewiston.”

Dempsey’s film and television roles include 11 seasons as Dr. Derek Shepherd on ABC-TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

He was born in Lewiston and raised in Buckfield and Turner. His mother, Amanda Dempsey, was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and succumbed to the disease in 2014. Six years earlier, partnering with Central Maine Medical Center, her children Patrick, Mary, and Alicia founded the Dempsey Center to provide education, wellness services, and other forms of support, free of charge, to anyone affected by cancer.

He founded the annual Dempsey Challenge bicycling event to support fundraising for the Center. Spencer said the Dempsey Challenge “is a philosophy of living.”

In recent years, Dempsey has become known as an international race car driver.

President Spencer told the commencement audience that Wanda Corn “is a reminder that without arts, there can be no liberal arts.”

Corn is a noted historian of American art. She has played an important role in defining American art in the contexts of both international art and U.S. culture. She was a Bates student for two years before studying abroad and then completing her bachelor’s and advanced degrees at New York University.

At Stamford University in California, Corn held the institution’s first permanent appointment dedicated to the history of American art.

Among the 45 Maine residents graduating from Bates in the Class of 2017 are five from the Twin Cities: McKayla Lee Girardin, Lewiston, with a major in politics; Quinlan Gibson Leary, Auburn, history; Mahad Abdi Mohamed, Auburn, economics; Ahmed Abdullah Sheikh, Lewiston, religious studies; and Lily Linli Shi, Lewiston, history and Chinese.

Also among the other Maine graduates are Cecilia Louise Carey-Snow, Brunswick, cum laude with honors in rhetoric; Declan Jun-Wa Chu, Winthrop, politics; Allison Nichole Hill, Brunswick, environmental studies; John Henry Martell, environmental studies, Gray; and Mitchell Thomas Newlin, Brunswick, economics.

Graduates of the Bates College Class of 2017 represent 38 U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as 34 countries.

One in every seven are the first of their families to graduate from college. Two-thirds of the graduates have studied abroad and three of the graduates have triple majors.

Lisa A. Romeo, Class of 1988, president of the Alumni Association, said the new graduates are joining about 24,000 alumni. She urged them to “stay engaged.”

A senior gift in the amount of $4,805 was announced by senior gift co-chairs Matthew F. Phillips and Susan C. Leonard.

The Bates Commencement Choir, conducted by John H. Corrie, sang “Blessing in the Leaving,” and Brittany Longsdorf, multifaith chaplain at Bates, delivered the benediction.

The commencement exercises in Lewiston were streamed live on the internet, making it accessible for viewing around the world.

Nile Rabb of Stamford, Connecticut, celebrates with his sister, Kyla Ashey Rabb, after the siblings received their diplomas during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday. 

Mahad Abdi Mohamed of Auburn gestures to a friend after he receives his diploma during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday. Mohamed was a student at Edward Little High School prior to enrolling at Bates. 

Actor and Dempsey Center co-founder Patrick Dempsey passes Bates College graduating seniors during the processional at the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday. 

Bates College graduate Rebecca Titcomb of Henniker, Hew Hampshire, spends time with her father, Dan Titcomb, prior to the start of commencement at Bates College on Sunday. 

Patrick Dempsey shares a laugh with Bates College President Clayton Spencer after receiving his honorary degree during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday.

Alexander Rau Eaton of Lake Oswego, Oregon, flashes his diploma during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday.

Educator, social activist and author Geoffrey Canada gives the commencement address during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday.

Bates College faculty and honorary degree recipients participate during the 151st Bates College Commencement exercises in Lewiston on Sunday.


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