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Acclaimed contemporary artist Theaster Gates told Colby seniors to use their brains and hands to make the invisible visible, create an abundance worth sharing, and change the world for the better.

In a complicated world, Gates said, students should find their sense of clarity and purpose. From there, we are able to “dig deep, examine ourselves, and find ourselves squarely contributing our practices against this mean old world,” he said.

Gates delivered the address May 26 in Lorimer Chapel for Colby’s 197th baccalaureate.

The noted Chicago artist—and incoming director of artist initiatives at Colby’s Lunder Institute for American Art—recalled spending his summers as a child on his uncle’s Mississippi farm, learning how to reap a harvest in hot, dry times.

“I think this mean old world is kind of droughtful at the moment,” he said, adding that the sensation of being around Colby students is an antidote to this feeling, one akin to feeling the rain.

“Whatever the truth is of this moment, it is made better because of your graduation. And if we take this charge seriously, to see the invisible and make it visible … there would be a yield, more abundant than we have a need for. An excess,” he said. “It would be so great to have generations of people who understand how to produce an abundance and then have the capacity to share it.”

Prior to Gates’s remarks, President David A. Greene recalled highlights from the time he spent with the Class of 2018, the first class he’s been with for a full four years.