June 24 was the perfect day for an outdoor ceremony to celebrate the graduation of fourteen talented, skilled ecological designers. The day began at an open house at the Mill180 studios, where guests could tour the school facilities and admire the projects completed by members of the class of 2017.
Afterward, just over a hundred friends, family members, faculty and staff gathered under a shady pavilion at Nonotuck Park on the sunny, breezy, and pleasantly warm afternoon. Board Chair Keith Ross welcomed everyone, and Executive Director Bruce Stedman prefaced the ceremony with a brief history of the school before he introduced commencement speaker Greg Watson.
Greg Watson, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture, shared with the graduating class some of the trends in urban development that have inspired him to work with economic policy. Concern over haphazardly growing cities and a steady loss of farmland led him to work on policy changes like Agricultural Preservation Restrictions, new market opportunities like the Boston Common Market, and groundbreaking community development models like the Dudley Street Initiative. His message was encouraging and positive: When things are moving in an unhealthy direction, build the alternative that makes the status quo obsolete.
Faculty member Kim Erslev introduced the class and the Conway tradition of students presenting their diplomas to each other. Each member of the class came up to the lectern to receive their diploma with hugs, laughter, applause, and a few emotional tears. The care, admiration, and respect that each person held for their classmates was tangible in the meaningful stories shared and kind words spoken.
After each classmate received their diploma, class agents Emma Vautour ’17 and Ben Rippe ’17 announced the class had decided on not one, but three gifts for Conway: hand-made north arrow stamps for faculty members to mark up incomplete student maps, a three-dimensional topographic map of Western Massachusetts, and a stipend for a guest evening speaker.
The Class of 2017 joins a community of Conway alums working in a myriad of design and planning fields, throughout the US and beyond. In fact, these fourteen individuals push that community to just over 700. We wish you the best of luck building new alternatives to replace unjust and obsolete systems, working with communities to envision new and better futures, and following your passions. In the words of Mollie Babize ’84, sung by a group of faculty and staff to the tune of You’ll Fly Away,
“Just a few more weary days and then, you’ll fly away,
Come September, come visit us again – don’t stay away!“