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Antioch College

On Saturday, June 22, the Antioch College Class of 2024 — comprised of 17 students, each of whom designed their own major — bid their small-town, liberal arts college adieu. Upon the conferral of degrees, this cohort of Antiochians are off to abide by the advice of the college’s founder, Horace Mann: to win some victories for humanity. Pictured at front left with the newly graduated are commencement speaker Marcie R. Rendon and Antioch College President Jane Fernandes. (Photo by Matt Minde)

Antioch College graduates 17 for ’24

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By El Mele

Antioch College held its commencement Saturday, June 22, with 17 students crossing the stage in the Foundry Theater. All students designed their own interdisciplinary majors based on the variety of courses available. Three candidates graduated with Bachelor of Science degrees and 14 with Bachelor of Arts degrees.

Accompanying the procession of the graduates was the World House Choir, who sang “I Woke Up this Morning” before Antioch College President Jane Fernandes gave a welcome message.

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This year’s commencement featured four student speakers representing their fellow classmates. The first was Ashley LocGoddess Coleman, who spoke about employing the essential skill of empathy at Antioch, and how crucial empathy is to changing the world.

“Empathy allows us to look beyond our own perspectives and appreciate the unique value each person contributes,” Coleman said. “During my time at Antioch, I’ve come to realize empathy is an essential life skill that traditional educational institutions tend to overlook. You all have demonstrated to me that empathy is gaining ground in the emerging generation.”

Speaking second was Erina McGuire, who reflected on the fact that she scrapped the original draft of her speech due to striving for perfectionism, having lost herself and her point in the initial writing process.

“I’m not perfect, and Antioch has taught me that that is OK — I want everyone to know that it’s OK if things don’t go perfectly the first time; that doesn’t make the work that you’ve done any less meaningful,” McGuire said. “Nothing about today, or even my entire college experience, has gone as I’ve originally wanted it to. But that’s what makes it perfect.”

Adrian Colborn spoke next; they focused on the various hardships they and their class experienced — specifically, attending college during COVID — and how the perseverance of their peers and the institution have prepared them for what comes next.

“Our time here has not been without obstacles,” Colborn said. “Despite these struggles, however, I feel prepared for what comes after. This college, with its commitment to our ideals of community and service, has cultivated a desire and sense of purpose in me that feels stronger than ever before. A desire to build, to change, and to love. This community has my lifelong gratitude for helping me become who I am today.”

The final speaker was Mercy Viola, who read a poem she wrote, “Harvest: An Ode To New Beginnings.” She described the poem as “a multidisciplinary testimonial poem highlighting pinecones that fertilize through the smoke of fires to illustrate rebirth” that “honored the endurance of seeds now blooming in self discovery, community solidarity and victorious emergence.” Mercy Viola also designed the art on the Class of 2024 stole, which depicts three stages of a fertilizing pinecone.

This year’s commencement speaker, Marcie R. Rendon, is an award-winning Indigenous author, poet, playwright and consultant who is a member of the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Rendon opened her remarks with loving and supportive words directed at the new graduates — in case graduates didn’t have someone present at commencement to offer such sentiments. She went on to speak about the need for flexible thinking, courage, leadership, and how these qualities will allow the new generation to focus on the collective rather than the individual.

“We need to move away from the American ideal of independent thinking and start to redevelop our interdependence skills,” she said. “How do we get along with people, how do we build community around us, how do we build a circle of like-minded people who come from different race, class, and gender backgrounds? We need community now more than ever. … Our spiritual ancestors in the Ojibwe tradition encourage us to lead with love. I’m sure you’ve all heard of ‘decolonizing your minds.’ I encourage you to decolonize your hearts.”

The News spoke with Rendon before the commencement ceremony regarding her professional background and her social justice work. Rendon is known for her three “Cash Blackbear” books, a mystery series about Renee “Cash” Blackbear, a tough-as-nails, 19-year-old Ojibwe woman who aids the local sheriff in solving crimes occurring in her own native community. When asked if her writing was an intentional effort to increase representation of native people and their hardships in fiction literature, she said “no.”

“I read crime novels — when I first started writing, I figured I would stick with what I knew,” she said. “My writing was also influenced by the area I lived in in rural Minnesota, and what has been wonderful about this is that people who live in rural areas have informed me that it also represents their lives.”

Rendon added that, though representation hasn’t been part of the intention of her writing, the “representation of Native women is an added benefit.”

“Non-native women will say to me, ‘Cash is so cool — I wish I could be like her!’ while Native women will say to me, ‘You wrote my story,’” she said.

In addition to her novels, Rendon has written a number of plays, performance pieces and songs, including “Say Their Names,” a reading of names of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S. She has also written short stories, children’s books, poetry and nonfiction works.

Rendon has also worked in mental health services and with Native populations in prisons. Rendon said she enthusiastically supports other Native creators to pursue their art, as she highlights in her artistic statement: “We are kept in their mindset as ‘vanished peoples.’ Or as workers, not creators. … What does this erasing of individual identity do to us? Can you believe you exist if you look in a mirror and see no reflection? … We can sing our hearts out, tell our stories, paint our visions. … In order to live, we have to make our own mirrors.”

Following Rendon’s remarks during commencement, degrees were conferred upon this year’s graduating class: Abbey Cyester, Summa Cum Laude; William Rice; Olivia Simmons, Magna Cum Laude; Gael Cabrera Ocambo; Mercy Viola Carpenter, Magna Cum Laude; Adrian G. Colborn, Magna Cum Laude; Ashley LocGoddess Coleman, Summa Cum Laude; Allison Jane Leach, Summa Cum Laude; Robyn A. McCoy, Cum Laude; Erina McGuire; Ben O’Brian, Magna Cum Laude; DJ Riley; Anna Desiree Robinson; Bonnie Rodriguez; V. Skinkle; Chance S. Yuuki; and Jamison Watkins, Cum Laude.

*The author is a student at Antioch College and a freelance reporter for the News.

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