Willimantic native chosen to speak at graduation

Posted May 19, 2010, at 8:56 p.m.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Colby College’s graduation ceremony this year will include a self-described fifth-generation slate miner from Piscataquis County as its class speaker, a role rarely filled by a Mainer.

Colby’s last class speaker from Maine took the stage in 2004, and before that the college had one in 1992 and another in 1986. Steve Tatko is this year’s speaker and is an interesting choice by his classmates because he “defies so many stereotypes,” according to Stephen Collins, a spokesperson for Colby’s Office of Communi-cations.

Tatko is a 22-year-old dean’s list history student from Willimantic. He was captain of Colby’s woodsmen team, won the Colby Chorale Prize and plans to work on the North Woods Project for the Natural Resources Council of Maine after graduation. He said he was shocked to find out he had been picked as class speaker.

“What interests me about Steve is how he combines that practical, capable Yankee spirit … with intellectual curiosity and academic achievement.” Collins wrote in an e-mail to the Bangor Daily News.

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Tatko said he fell in love with Colby early in high school. He visited the University of Maine and has friends who attend it, but was more attracted to Colby’s tight-knit community.

“After I got elected to be class speaker I talked with a lot of my classmates and got their opinions on life and Colby,” Tatko said Wednesday. “Everyone said just speak from the heart and be yourself.”

Tatko graduated from Foxcroft Academy in 2006 and started attending Colby the same year. In addition to working for his family’s business during school, he worked on campus doing plumbing and mechanical and electrical repair. He said his favorite aspect of Colby is its sense of community.

“We don’t know how lucky we are to be able to walk out your dorm room in the morning and have 1,800 people at your fingertips who represent diverse cultures,” Tatko said.

Tatko’s senior thesis was the history of the budworm infestation in northern Maine and its effect on the North Woods. His family owns and operates Sheldon Slate Products Co. in Monson, which produces kitchen countertops, slate sinks, roofing, floor tiles and monuments. In 2007, he narrated and starred in a short video, “Making a Difference,” produced by Colby’s Environmental Advisory Group for the National Wildlife Federation’s “Chill Out” contest.

Tatko is preceded by class speakers from Afghanistan, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Zimbabwe. He plans to live in Augusta and work for the family business on the weekends while working on the North Woods Project. The project concerns forest policy and land use in northern Maine with an “eye toward how people interact with nature,” Tatko said.

Colby’s graduation ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 23, on the lawn of Miller Library at the school’s Waterville campus. Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, will give the commencement address.

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