Spirits were high May 12, as 120 Unity College graduates were awarded degrees.

Commencement took place in Tozier gymnasium and featured Emmy award-winning environmental advocate Jeff Corwin.

In addition to diplomas, several awards were handed out to students as well. Graduate Gregory LeClair majored in wildlife biology and received the Marshall Gerrie Award for "contributing to the functioning of the college and morale of the student body." He also was presented the Scientific Engagement in the Ecology & Management Program Award.

"Oh my God! I can't believe it's here. It went by so fast," LeClair said. "I'm feeling pretty crazy. It feels like it still should be freshman year."

He said he plans to attend graduate school for environmental consulting.

Trustees' Award recipient Erin Raatz said, "I don't know if we have fully processed (this). I am grateful for my family. Without them I would not be here." She admitted to having "little butterflies" but acknowledged she was ready to graduate college and look to the future.

Two days after graduation, Raatz expected to begin a road trip to a job she secured at Sequoia National Park in California as a naturalist interpreter, writing programs for visitors.

The commencement speaker shared personal stories as well as advice. Corwin was honored with a doctorate of sustainability science for his work on educating the masses about wildlife and the environment.

His opening remarks told the story of a garter snake named Gladys he befriended when he was 6. When his grandmother told him to get rid of it, Corwin objected and said, "But I love her." This early wildlife interaction led him down the path to becoming a naturalist, he said.

The biologist, conservationist, author and wildlife show TV host continued his speech by noting, "We are all addicts — and our drug of choice is nature."

He shared another story of working with a 3-month-old elephant named Rajka in Africa, helping him fall asleep during a storm. The 600-pound elephant was having night terrors so Corwin stroked his eyelashes and told him it would be OK.

Right before drifting off to sleep, "his trunk came up and grabbed my hair and twisted it into a lock," Corwin said.

Years later, his memory of the incident was jogged while he was rocking his young daughter, he said, when "Just before going to sleep, she grabs my hair and twists it into a lock."

Regarding the environment, Corwin urged students to make their voices heard.

"We have some incredible challenges (ahead)," he said. "Habitat loss, pollution and plastics in the Pacific the size of Texas. … Good people make bad decisions (when) they lack information. You are the solution."

Speaking of his own success, Corwin said, "I'm always looking around the corner — what's the next challenge ahead?"

He urged students to put in the sweat equity required to meet their goals and offered the following life lessons:

  • believe in yourself;
  • be courageous;
  • be empathetic — "don't hide behind your veneer of your insulated world;"
  • have an open mind: "see every side, you may learn something;"
  • be forgiving;
  • do not fear failure, take a chance;
  • seek the truth;
  • and master your craft.

"This is only the beginning," Corwin said, adding graduates should always have hope.