The last class of Mount Ida College students graduated Saturday in a bittersweet ceremony that offered a brief reprieve from the chaos of the past month. Absent from commencement were college president Barry Brown and the board of trustees; students had asked that they not attend after the officials' abrupt announcement in April that the school would close.
After learning that news, the senior class took control and planned the ceremony themselves. Class leaders said their disappointment over losing their alma mater transformed into a deep camaraderie, as they worked to ensure that the final ceremony would be a celebration of everything good about the school.
"You can sell our land, classrooms, field, dorms, and take down our green and white flags," said class speaker Corey Staub. "The one thing you can't take down is what it means to be a Mustang."
Staub spoke on Saturday about the personal attention he received at Mount Ida and the sense of family he found on campus.
He talked about the academic skills he gained from his business classes, but he said more important were the personal skills of self-confidence, leadership, and compassion that he learned.
"They can never take our memories, our connections, and our mark on each other away from us," Staub said.
The ceremony had an air of finality, a commemoration of not only this class of 323 graduates but of the college itself.
The cheers seemed especially loud, and the graduates' hoots and whistles could be heard even as rain poured over the sides of the Blue Hill Bank Pavilion in Boston on a chilly Saturday evening.
Thunderous applause came as the Mount Ida professors walked onto the stage. Even though they will lose their jobs this month, many spent the past few weeks helping students find places to transfer, even while looking for new jobs themselves.
But the ceremony was still sad. Students said it felt strange to know that the quirky traditions they had experienced over the past four years, like a participatory screening of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" each Halloween, won't be there for a new fall class.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is in talks to buy the Mount Ida campus, with a deal expected to close next month.
Underclassmen at Mount Ida are scrambling to find places to continue their studies because the school failed to make a plan for them before announcing it would shut its doors.
The senior class had planned to raise money and give a gift of an outdoor hangout area, complete with brightly colored Adirondack chairs. But it canceled the idea after learning the school would close.
Seyward Guthrie, a senior class cabinet officer who studies funeral home management, said her feelings about the school's closure seem oddly similar to lessons she learned in her classes — that the end of life is a celebration as well as a time for mourning.
"I'm happy that I at least got to be here, and I at least got to celebrate my time here and I got to see it to the end," Guthrie said.
A high point of the day was the conferring of seven honorary degrees.
When students learned the school would close, the senior class officers asked the administration to uninvite the previously chosen recipients and instead chose their own, who included Michael Landers, the head football coach, and two cafeteria workers.
Another honorary degree recipient, forensic science professor James Jabbour, dyed his beard bright green in honor of the school's colors.
Students had lots of stories about Landers, who drove his own grill to the field at the end of every year to cook hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone. He also painted a rock green on campus every time the team won a conference game, students said.
Landers "bleeds green," said Patrick McKearney, the senior class cabinet president. The coach knows most students by name, even those who don't play sports. He created a special memorial plaza near the field for a student who died last year, they said.
Another recipient was dining hall worker Rolando Luna, who has worked at the school since 1991. Luna, who works at the sandwich counter, knows everyone's order. Another beloved cafeteria worker, Allison Cohen, was also honored.
Instead of Brown, students presented the honorary degrees, and they asked Provost Ron Akie to preside over the ceremony.
"It's so wonderful to have a happy happy, happy, happy moment," Akie said.
The main speaker was Laura DeVeau, the students' vice president for student affairs.
Her speech was full of inside jokes, family stories, and calling people by first names. She got refrains of laughter from a crowd of students who knew exactly who and what she was talking about. It felt like a family gathering.
"With the closing of Mount Ida College, some of you have said 'but we do not have a place to call home anymore,' " she said. "Baloney. You have each other."
She told them to go out in the world and take with them the lessons they learned.
"Now let us close the book. The final chapter is written, it is read," she said.
"But tell people about all the glorious and fabulous characters that made Mount Ida College special. Paint a picture so detailed and vibrant that you could walk into it."