University News

U. awards 2,419 degrees in Paxson’s first commencement

Speakers called on graduates to pursue their passions and to 'engage with the future'

By
Staff Writer
Monday, May 27, 2013

Students from the class of 2013 graduated in a chilly but cheerful ceremony, hearing speeches about academic opportunities at Brown and the refusal to fail.

Temperatures were low but spirits stayed high during the 245th Commencement weekend, held May 25 and 26.

The University gave a total of 2,419 degrees, with 1,554 of those being bachelor’s degrees. The ceremony marked the first Commencement presided over by President Christina Paxson.

Ceremonies began Saturday at the First Baptist Church of America, where the Baccalaureate ceremony was held. The traditional Baccalaureate processional was canceled due to rain.

The service opened with a Chinese drum performance, in which students danced inside dragon costumes. Members of different faith communities recited prayers from a number of  religions, and two students spoke about the confluence of individual and community goals.

A cappella, opera and dance performances, hymns of many cultures and a reading of the poem “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda preceded the main speaker, Beverly Wade Hogan, president of Tougaloo College.

“Our privilege should not be a cringe-inducing guilt trip,” Hogan said, challenging graduates to “engage with the future.” “Don’t confine your activity to the private pursuits of health, wealth and happiness,” she added.

Sunday morning began with chilly temperatures but a cheerful atmosphere as alums led the way in the procession for the class of 2013. Crying, laughing and waving, undergraduates walked down to the First Baptist Church of America wearing leis, flags, bedazzled caps and robes. Graduating medical students and professors followed.

Student speakers Tanayott Thaweethai ’13 and Elizabeth Susan Mills ’13 echoed Hogan’s sentiments from the day before, speaking about the specific skills and opportunities Brown provided.

“Brown, you have given me — given us — the courage to explore such unfamiliar territory,” Thaweethai said in a speech titled “Doors.”

When he first perused the University’s course catalog four years ago, he said, he felt that choosing any door closed off all others. He said he soon learned he could continue to open doors, but the trick was finding the right door for himself.

“2013, you are extravagantly talented. But what keeps you going?” Thaweethai asked. “What keeps you up at night?”

Mills spoke about the control over one’s own education that Brown entrusts to each of its students.

Brown students “demand overrides” and live in a world where “failure is not an option — no credit is,” Mills said. She contrasted this with the outside world that does not always accept such a refusal to fail.

Mills encouraged her fellow graduates to “walk through the gates with an unshakable trust in ourselves.”

Actor and film director Ben Affleck received raucous cheers as he dedicated his honorary degree to his mother. Other honorary degrees were awarded to Hogan, author Junot Diaz, bacteriologist Stanley Falkow, health care activist Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and president of Miami Dade College Eduardo Padron.

Blue skies peeked through the clouds and the sun began to shine as Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron presented degrees to undergraduate bachelors of art and science.

“Today we are graduating not as individual graduates,” Thaweethai said. “We are graduating as the class of 2013.”