LEWISTON — What would be routine for most college students of another era was special for members of the Bates College class of 2023, who enjoyed the previous world of college life for just one semester before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retiring Bates President Clayton Spencer watched Sunday for the last time in her 11-year tenure as the college’s 439 seniors flipped their tassels and became graduates.

Spencer acknowledged the difficulties the pandemic has presented and how resiliency in the face of these hardships spoke to students’ successes and appetites for more.

Spencer said 11% of the students were first in their families to graduate college, 94 students double-majored, 26 earned honors for a yearlong thesis and three in two disciplines, 44% studied abroad and 47% participated in varsity sports. Five graduates were awarded Fulbright Fellowships and two received Watson Fellowships.

Rishi Sanjay Madnani delivers the senior address Sunday during Bates College’s 2023 commencement exercises in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Senior speaker Rishi Sanjay Madnani said while many would call campus and academic life a bubble, it is more akin to an in vitro cell culture, a “method of growing cells in a controlled and monitored environment to yield insights that (otherwise) would not have been possible.”

“I hope to leave you with three messages today: Sequence your genome, make molecules and maintain intercellular connections,” Madnani said.


The perceived value in a Bates education was evident in many graduates’ reflections on their time at the Lewiston college. Jillian Richardson, an Auburn transplant from Turner and the youngest of six children, is a first-generation college graduate who was home-schooled until her freshman year at Bates.

She said her first months at Bates were especially difficult, being a local student and unaccustomed to campus and classroom settings, but she thrived once she found her place. Richardson became a standout track athlete, majored in biology, minored in Asian studies and graduated cum laude. She said she plans to stay in Maine and either pursue graduate studies or enter the workforce.

“The memories and friends will always hold a special place in my heart,” Richardson said. “I’m forever grateful to my parents for making it possible for me to attend college, and to the people at Bates, who helped me along the way and opened doors to unforgettable opportunities.”

Bates College President Clayton Spencer is seen on a large screen Sunday as she addresses the crowd during Bates College’s 2023 commencement exercises in Lewiston. The event was livestreamed worldwide. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Meghan Graff, a political science and sociology double-major and Bobcats basketball star, said her plan is to head next year to the United Kingdom to play ball for Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, a city on the River Tyne in northeast England.

Graff said her time at Bates was a challenging and rewarding experience, leaving her “grateful to attend an institution that values relationship-building in all facets of school, athletics and social settings.”

Another new graduate, Dylan Larose, a 38-year-old Auburn native, veteran and co-owner of Dag’s Bait & Sportgoods in Auburn, said he stared at the Bates campus for years while picking away — first at a science degree, then a business degree — at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. It then occurred to Larose he could simply apply to Bates and see what happens.


“Somehow, I got in,” he said.

After 17 straight semesters of college, he said he will be taking a break for his family’s sake.

“I suppose education is kind of like a tattoo,” Larose said. “Once you start, it’s quite addicting.”

Members of the audience have creative ways of showing their support Sunday for the graduates during Bates College’s 2023 commencement exercises in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Publicly honored at commencement with honorary degrees were author and journalist Michael Lewis; founder and president of The HistoryMakers, Julieanna Richardson; author and podcaster Shankar Vendatam; and ornithologist and poet Joseph Drew Lanham.

Lanham was the commencement speaker, clueing seniors into the cycle of learning, producing, teaching and learning again.

“Recycling,” he said, encourages growth on the individual level, while remaining connected and in constant collaboration on freedom and the good life.

“Freedom,” he said, is knowing our histories, rejecting those who would ban books giving the truth, reading a library full of them, writing the book that would be banned and building libraries where there are none.

“Look skyward and see the birds flying free over us and be inspired,” Lanham said.

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