LEWISTON — On what Bates College President Clayton Spencer called “a picture-perfect day,” 498 members of the Class of 2022 graduated after one of the most unusual academic journeys in the liberal arts school’s long history.

“Look at us! We made it!” said Teresa Chico, a senior chosen to speak at the 2 1/2-hour commencement ceremony.

The day began with faculty members and students lining up along Alumni Walk in their caps and gowns for a processional that would bring them to the ceremony at the Historic Quad, in front of the old Coram Library building.

The bell atop Hathorn Hall tolled repeatedly shortly before 9:20 a.m. A bagpiper then began playing, and within minutes the soon-to-graduate students were on the move toward their seats, their degrees and their futures beyond Bates.

The featured speaker, Dr. Nirav Shah, director since 2019 of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, urged them to “go out there and ‘be someone.’”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, takes a selfie Sunday with the Class of 2022 at the start of his commencement speech at Bates College in Lewiston. Shah posted the photograph later in the day on Twitter. Dr. Nirav Shah

While stuck in traffic with his ailing father some years ago, Shah said, he saw the two-word slogan painted on a rusting railroad bridge in Houston, and it struck him as a bit of poetry and a worthy suggestion.


Shah, who is guiding Maine through its surprisingly successful effort to limit the toll from COVID-19, told graduates they had grown up after 9/11, in an era with a parade of woes, from terrorism to recession to the pandemic.

“The world has handed you more than your share,” he said. “Your generation has seen so much, and responded with wit, creativity, righteous anger and a determination to take the reality you’ve been handed and make it better.

“Even through COVID, you managed to flourish under absurd conditions, some of which I imposed.”

Spencer told graduates that after experiencing the pandemic, it is “blindingly obvious” their lives are linked to many forces far beyond Bates, including racism, war and climate change.

Shah said “humility, humanity and humor” — qualities he learned from his father — “helped you be someone who is graduating from Bates College,” and are also tools for what comes next.

Ojochenemi Maji graduates Sunday from Bates College in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Chico, a New Yorker who is the first in her family to graduate from college, said it took a while, but with some help from a film class taught by Professor Charles Nero, she learned she was not just lucky to be at Bates. She came to realize she belonged there, too.


“We all grew during these last four years,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to go through an experience like this and leave the other side completely unfazed.”

Before they had even reached the end of their second year at the Lewiston campus, this year’s graduates were sent home on short notice as the COVID-19 pandemic began to run amok.

The students returned the following semester to a slew of ever-changing rules requiring regular testing, masks, grab-and-go dining, restrictions on where they could be and more.

Spencer said Sunday’s graduation ceremony, the first to be done traditionally since 2019, marked “a triumph over the last 2 1/2 years” of COVID-induced difficulties. She said the graduating class experienced three semesters of normal college life, and then had to go into “pandemic mode” until the past few weeks, during the May short term session, when things seemed something close to normal.

Spencer said students and faculty members had to cope with “constant change and adaptation” because of pathogens stalking the community.

In the end, though, one of the college’s largest graduating classes, with students hailing from 39 states and 40 countries, made it through to the 156th commencement at the liberal arts institution that recently finished its most successful fundraising drive, bringing in $336 million.


Four people were awarded honorary doctorates at the ceremony: Shah; poet Nikki Giovanni; biotech leader Michael Bonney; and the Rev. Becca Stevens, who is widely acclaimed for her work helping women who have experienced domestic abuse and other hardships.

Lauren Berube of Auburn takes her seat Sunday during the Bates College commencement in Lewiston. Berube graduated from Edward Little High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The graduates from what Spencer termed “the amazing Class of 2022″ included some from the Twin Cities.

Lauren Berube of Auburn attended Edward Little High School before crossing the river to attend college.

For her senior project, Berube created lesson plans for middle school students that include social media, video games and movement-based activities.

“I’ve noticed a lot of classrooms with students who are fairly disengaged, and I think it’s because a lot of classrooms for math are taught with ‘chalk and talk,'” she said in April.

Abdulwahab Mohamed crosses the stage Sunday after receiving his degree in sociology during the Bates College commencement. Mohamed is a graduate of Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Abdulwahab Mohamed, an alumnus of Lewiston High School, worked with Tree Street Youth and Seeds of Peace while at Bates. He was also the president of the Black Student Union, and organized the 2020 Sankofa celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the college, which explored the experiences of the African diaspora through theater, music and dance.


At the time, Mohamed said he wanted to “build that bridge between the Lewiston and Bates communities, see the stories of each other and debunk any false perceptions of each community.”

Spencer said graduates Sunday did a lot of work in the community during their time at Bates, from providing public art to mentoring and tutoring at Lewiston’s schools. She said they also helped make the successful case to snag millions in aid for new affordable housing in the area.

For all that happened over the weekend at Bates, the college is not done with graduations this week.

It is holding what it calls a “Graduation Celebration” at 11 a.m. Saturday for the Class of 2020, which never had a chance to hold any sort of in-person commencement.

Grace Beaudet, left, laughs Sunday with her sister, Anna, after graduating from Bates College in Lewiston. Grace and Anna graduated from Edward Little High School in Auburn. Anna Beaudet graduated from Bates in 2020. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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