A farewell to Grace Keenan: NCSA presidency passed to Olivia Mikkelsen
April 11 Board of Trustees meeting. Photo by Riley Bucklin.

A farewell to Grace Keenan: NCSA presidency passed to Olivia Mikkelsen

New College Student Alliance (NCSA) President and thesis student Grace Keenan sat with poise at her final Board of Trustee (BOT) meeting on April 11. After a meeting filled with heavy topics that had gained controversy within the community, such as the disapproval of Professor of Latin American and Caribbean studies Hugo Viera-Vargas’s tenure and a $200,000 salary bonus to President Richard Corcoran, Keenan’s fellow board members now turned to her. Following praise from BOT members, Keenan requested to give a farewell speech. “In my four years here, we have had four presidents of the college…” she began, bouncing her leg under the table as she addressed the board. By the time she was done, Keenan had received a standing ovation. 

Many board members gave comments of appreciation for Keenan in her time working alongside them. “If there’s one graduate that I am obviously well-aware of and know well who is unquestionably going to move the Earth in whatever ways, it’s Trustee Keenan,” Corcoran praised in his presidential updates section of the meeting. 

Keenan made sure to acknowledge those taking her position. “I’ve served in this role for two years and I’m very happy to pass the torch to our president-elect Olivia Mikkelsen and Vice President Kyla Baldonado,” Keenan stated, followed by applause from the BOT and audience. 

Keenan’s full speech at the end of the Board of Trustees meeting received a standing ovation and reads as follows:

“In my four years here we have had four presidents of the college. As I told you when I first met you, I have had many praises and many criticisms of each of them, especially Brad… Just kidding. I will support my college through whatever president we have, because I will be supporting my college for a very long time. What we do here, how this place changes you, is so much more important than myself, than the president, this board or the current politics of the state. I have had the opportunity to work with you all and see the behind-the-scenes of how this administration works, and I’m not exactly happy with how it’s going. For all our talk of virtue and civil discourse, the public continues to see us not practice what we preach. I do not want to discourage anyone here, I want you to live up to these principles and I think everyone in this room is capable of them. There are many places where we can find common ground – our excellent academic system being one of them. We can also agree that there are many people dissatisfied with higher education in general right now. I think you all are raising important questions, but if anyone is going to find the answer to them, I think it’s the people who have been through the New College system. You are not and can not do it on your own. Unfortunately we have burned so many bridges and we have not built many back. My advice to this board is that you make it a priority to build back trust and build some credibility. Leadership and the rest of the college cannot function as two separate entities fighting each other. Someone has to step up and fix that divide. It’ll make all of our lives a lot more enjoyable and these board meetings shorter, hopefully. Finally, I hope that our leadership, the faculty, the students, the alumni and the community members that care so much about New College don’t give up on our school. It has been a pleasure to serve, thank you.” 

As she steps down from her two-year position as NCSA President, the Catalyst spoke with Keenan plus upcoming President and Vice President Olivia Mikkelsen and Kyla Baldonado to learn more about what this passing of the torch will mean for New College next year. 

Mikkelsen and Baldonado ran without competition for the NCSA Spring 2024 elections, putting them in the positions of President and Vice President respectively. This will be Baldonado’s second year in the Vice President position. Mikkelson and Baldonado are both second-year Psychology students, and Baldonado is pursuing a secondary degree in Sociology. 

Both students said their interest in the NCSA was driven by New College’s uniqueness and strong sense of community. “When I came to NCF, I loved it almost immediately,” Baldonado elaborated. “I know that given some of the circumstances, students aren’t feeling the same enthusiasm and love for the school that I was so lucky to experience. I want nothing more than for my fellow students to feel the way I did about New College when I came in. My position in student government allows me to pursue that.”

During the upcoming year, Mikkelson and Baldonado look forward to creating opportunities for connection and collaboration with the New College community and continuing traditional Novo events. They indicated a special focus on improving student communication through bulletin boards, fliers and social media. 

“Changes in student-to-student communication policies have made it difficult for students to connect with one another and find resources, community and events,” Baldonado stated. “It also has big implications for campus engagement, so we see great value in pushing for more pathways for students to communicate.”

For Mikkelson, another of the biggest concerns to be addressed on campus is student housing. “Over the summer, I will work with the housing office to ensure that students receive communication regarding available funds and options for housing,” she explained. “Additionally, we will work with housing and alumni to assess other housing opportunities available to students. We understand how much is expected of students at New College and are working to reduce the burden for the students.”

More and more returning students being housed off-campus also brings up concern about maintaining campus engagement. 

“There is a noticeable decline in campus activity and the feedback we’ve collected from students this past year definitely reflects that,” Baldonado stated. “Hotel assignments, among other factors, are big deterrents to campus engagement. Mitigating these concerns will be one of our priorities this year, as we all want to see better campus engagement.”

Mikkelson mentioned that solutions to the engagement problem may lie with better transportation services and electronic options to make NCSA more accessible to students. “We understand that student housing will impact how frequently students will be able to interact with each other. This issue extends beyond hotels and impacts people living in dorms and off-campus,” Mikkelson retorted. “We will also push for a more extensive shuttle service to address part of this disconnect. Since each student experience is so individual, we will additionally work with students to provide resources as needed. We understand that campus engagement will be a continuous dialogue and will be gathering student perspectives often. To make NCSA more accessible to students, we will also use camera technology to make virtual options more engaging.”

Mikkelson and Baldonado hope to bridge the gap between incoming and returning students to build connections across different Areas of Concentration, clubs and sports. 

“The way I see it, the first step is understanding where we differ and where we can agree on things… As representatives of the entire student body, part of our work to address the divide

will be intentionality in striving to represent all needs and all voices,” Baldonado explained. “One of the challenges of student government this past year was accounting for the changes in the student body, and an initiative we took to resolve this was creating the role of Athletic Representative. Connecting with our athletes and giving them voices in our student government allows for fairer representation and more thorough advocacy for all students. We are here to make the student experience better for all, and to do that we have to weigh all student perspectives in our decision-making as NCSA.”

Both Mikkelson and Baldonado are urging students to get involved in creating a brighter and livelier campus, whether it is through student government, clubs, hosting events or other means. 

“The school thrives when students get involved and collaborate on initiatives they are passionate about,” Mikkelson commented. “I encourage you to collaborate and try something new.”

Mikkelson and Baldonado expressed their gratitude for the effort Keenan has put into her role as President during the past two years. “I thank Grace Keenan for her work at New College. She has been a wonderful teacher and colleague over the past year,” Mikkelson said in praise. “Her experiences as a student worker and within NCSA have brought her many valuable lessons. It’s always a treat to hear her tell stories and advice. Additionally, I am honored to work with someone who embodies the core New College values in her work and personal life. After Grace graduates, her presence will remain through the impact of her work for the college. I am excited to see what comes next for her because I know she will continue to use skills of discernment and leadership.”

“I owe Grace one big ‘thank you’ on behalf of all students,” Baldonado added. “She has done a phenomenal job in her role and I believe she’s left us in a good spot to take up her work. Grace has really empowered and supported me while I learned the ropes of student government this year.”

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