Colette Pichon Battle for 2023 Commencement

The climate activist, an alumna of the Class of 1997, will be the speaker for Kenyon’s 195th Commencement.

By David Hoyt ’14

Colette Pichon Battle ’97 H’18, a Kenyon alumna who has dedicated her career to climate activism and disaster recovery, will be the featured speaker at the College’s 195th Commencement on May 20, 2023.

Senior Class President Prince Adablah ’23 announced her selection to the Class of 2023 during Fandango, an annual celebration held 100 days prior to graduation, on Friday, Feb. 10. Acting President Jeff Bowman extended the College’s invitation to speak at Commencement. 

“Considering the significant challenges climate change will pose to the Class of 2023 as we build lives and careers in the 21st century, I am glad that my classmates will have the chance to hear words of wisdom from a Kenyon alumna who has dedicated herself to climate activism,” said Adablah, who is a film major and studio art minor from Ghana. “I’m looking forward to what will surely be an inspiring speech.”

“Colette Pichon Battle is one of Kenyon’s particularly accomplished and extraordinarily passionate alumni, and I’m very much looking forward to welcoming her back to campus this spring,” Bowman said. “Her commitment to engaging local communities while confronting global challenges demonstrates the hallmarks of a liberal arts education, and I can’t think of anyone better to educate and to inspire our graduating class as they embark on their post-college careers.”

Battle majored in international studies at Kenyon, where she was also a WKCO DJ, a member of the Black Student Union and a sister of the historically African-American Nu Iota Alpha sorority. After graduating in 1997, she went on to earn a law degree from the Southern University Law Center. A native of Louisiana, she decided to focus her career on climate activism and disaster recovery after watching Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastate her family home and community.

Since then, Battle has founded the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, and also now serves as the partner of vision and initiatives at the global climate justice organization Taproot Earth. In 2016, she was among 10 individuals recognized by President Obama as “White House Champions of Change for Climate Equity” and was named a 2019 Obama Foundation fellow for her work organizing for Black and native climate justice and collaboration in the Gulf South. She was recently interviewed on the podcast “On Being” and has been a TED speaker and a featured speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Re:Wired Green conference in 2022. 

In addition, Battle is a dedicated Kenyon alumna, serving as a member of Alumni Council and winning the College’s Humanitarian Service Award. In 2018, Kenyon awarded her an honorary doctorate in recognition of her extraordinary talents and career, and last year she was featured on the Kenyon Newsmakers list of 2022’s most influential alumni.

At Fandango, Adablah also announced the faculty member selected by the Class of 2023 to deliver an address at the Baccalaureate ceremony held the day before Commencement. This year’s Baccalaureate address will be given by David Suggs P’15, the J. Kenneth Smail Professor of Anthropology. Suggs joined the Kenyon faculty in 1987 and previously spoke at Baccalaureate in 1990 and 2007. He won the Senior Cup in 2006 and the Trustee Teaching Excellence Award in 2008.