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Jane Alexander: Make Art, Make Love, Make Good

90 students at COA's largest graduation to date
Saturday, June 4, 2011 - COA campus

Lily AllgoodJane Alexander, actress and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, encouraged College of the Atlantic graduates to "make art, make love, make good" at the college's 39th commencement on Saturday, June 4.

This was COA's largest graduation yet, with 87 undergraduates and three graduate students gathered in a tent on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The graduates came from 11 nations including the United States, and 24 states. From school administrators the students received a hug, diploma and handshake; from their classmates the graduates received a flower and another hug. Each student dressed in clothing of his or her choice. Some were barefoot; others wore sparkling high heels, flip-flops, or bright red Keds sneakers. Two men were dressed in Scottish kilts of their family clans. And - unusual for COA - two students wore the traditional caps and gowns of the college graduate to show their overseas families that they had graduated.

Jane Alexander and her COA diplomaAlexander told the crowd of more than 1,000 that while she had her professional life in the theater, her passion was in preserving wildlife. She began her talk with these words: "I have wanted to go to this college for many years." (Though approaching its 40th anniversary, COA was not founded when Alexander went to college.) In a wide-ranging address, she concentrated on technology - its value, and its destructive potential.

Neil Oculi, student perspective"It takes only one generation to lose a skill. ... We can't save everything," she noted, mentioning crafts and skills that were essential to save.

At one point Alexander held up a couple of index cards entirely covered with lines of writing that she found in her father's wallet after his death. The words were the punch lines of his many jokes. She read one, "He failed to make the ewe turn." She then commented, "answers are meaningless if you don't know what questions to ask."

Added Alexander, "New ideas often are met with criticism or dismissal, but the one who says it can't be done shouldn't interrupt the one doing it." Looking directly at the graduates, she told them that if there's something that needs to be done, "Speak out and don't give up."  

Emily Postman receives hug from David HalesAlexander received an honorary degree along with ardent environmentalists Henry and Peggy Sharpe. Peggy Sharpe holds a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Environmental Protection Agency, and Henry Sharpe is the retired CEO and board chairman of Brown & Sharpe Manufactur¬ing Co.

Among the student speakers were Neil Oculi of St. Lucia, who came to COA after graduating from the Simón Bolívar United World College of Agriculture in Venezuela. He spoke of his mother's encouragement, insisting he read every assignment aloud to her after school. Only when he was 13 years old did he realize that his mother could not read.

Juan Carlos Soriano

Known for its sustainability, COA is the only carbon-neutral college in the nation. Graduations have always considered the environment. All paper used at events, including commencement, is recycled, all disposable tableware is compostable, no bottled water is served, and as much food as possible is local and organic. Leftover food from the celebration was delivered to a local food pantry and shelter, and all food wastes composted. The carbon footprint of every attendee was tracked and offset.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. Intentionally small, COA is a leader in environmental stewardship and experiential education. It has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning - human ecology - that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers who can lead all sectors of society to promote sustainable ecosystems while meeting compelling and growing human needs.

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