Speakers focus on resilience, history and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ at Colby College’s 203rd commencement (2024)

WATERVILLE — In front of a large audience and beneath a bright blue sky, 536 new graduates began the next chapter in their lives Sunday during Colby College’s 203rd commencement in Waterville.

The graduation ceremony included the conferring of five honorary degrees on a slate of artists, legislators and tribal leaders, and a speech from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who graduated from Colby in 1964.

College President David A. Greene told the graduates to “embrace the journey itself, not just the destination,” as they enter the next phase of their lives, acknowledging they had already persevered through the often-challenging journey that is college.

“It was a leap of faith that we could live and learn together during the darkest days of the pandemic, and we did just that,” Greene said. “If there’s a class that deserves some sunshine as they graduate, it’s this one.”

Brunda Katikireddy, the outgoing student body president, drew upon the popular animated “Kung Fu Panda” film series during her speech, comparing the movies’ themes to the spirit of the class of 2024.

Speakers focus on resilience, history and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ at Colby College’s 203rd commencement (1)

Graduates celebrate Sunday during the recessional after receiving their diplomas at the Colby College commencement in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Katikireddy recounted one scene in which the main character, Po, is given his father’s recipe for a sought-after Secret Ingredient Soup. Rather than a list of spices or a special sauce, the recipe is blank. Po is told the real secret ingredient is the belief you are eating something special.


That scene, Katikireddy said, embodied the message she sought to impart on her classmates: You already have your secret ingredient.

“‘Kung Fu Panda’ is actually the most outrageously spot-on analogy for college,” Katikireddy said. “Grand Master Oogway, who I’m not going to take time to explain, but you will understand if you watch the movie, states: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.’

“The existential dread of being an actual college grad kicks in tonight. Sit back, watch ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and reminisce on this chapter. Tomorrow, maybe watch ‘Kung Fu Panda 2.'”

The keynote address was delivered by Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian who has chronicled the lives of Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, among others. Her speech focused on what she called the “unfinished business of American history,” pulling from her time participating in and documenting the Civil Rights Movement to compare it to social movements of today.

“We older adults have bequeathed to you the most fractured and broken America since 1860,” she said. “But America is not as fragile, history tells us, as it seems.”

Speakers focus on resilience, history and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ at Colby College’s 203rd commencement (2)

Rome Rokas Banaitis, center, pops the cork on a bottle of champagne Sunday while celebrating with fellow graduates Chris Cho, left, and Dorian Gilmartin after the Colby College commencement in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Kearns Goodwin noted that whenever America has faced times of great stress and unrest, great individuals have risen to meet the challenge. She recounted the trials, tribulations and challenges faced by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., two prolific leaders she has profiled, as they navigated uncertain times of their own.


“People of good character, that’s what our beleaguered country needs in every aspect of life today,” Kearns Goodwin said. “One day, many many more years from now, your colleagues and your children and grandchildren will be proud to tell your story, to relay that you are a person of compassion, of empathy.”

Among the honorary degree recipients, Dwayne Tomah was recognized for protecting, translating and keeping alive the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s native language.

Susan Unterberg received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree for her philanthropic work, donating more than $7.5 million to hundreds of female artists since 1996.

Claude Rwaganje, who founded ProsperityME in Portland, a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants navigate their new homeland, was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree.

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Speakers focus on resilience, history and ‘Kung Fu Panda’ at Colby College’s 203rd commencement (2024)
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