On Feb. 10, Senior Class President Prince Adablah ’23 announced this year’s commencement speaker: climate activist and lawyer Colette Pichon Battle ’97 H’18, who will address the Class of 2023 at Kenyon’s 195th Commencement on May 20.
Born in Bayou Liberty, Louisiana, Battle has dedicated her career to campaigning for climate justice awareness, human rights and disaster relief through local and grassroots movements. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Battle founded the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP), which serves residents in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Her work primarily focuses on supporting Indigenous and Black communities.
Battle currently serves on the GCCLP Board as a co-chair and has contributed to or served on the board of similar organizations such as the U.S. Climate Action Network, the Highlander Research and Education Center, and the Equity Advisory Group of the Louisiana Governor’s Climate Initiative Task Force. Battle has also spearheaded efforts as the Visions and Initiatives Partner for Taproot Earth, a global climate justice organization, to support equitable climate disaster recovery among marginalized or disadvantaged groups.
In 2019, Battle was named an Obama Foundation fellow for her work with Indigenous and Black communities. The following year, she gave a TED Talk on climate change displacement, discussing climate gentrification, collective resilience and migration.
In addition to her climate activism and disaster recovery efforts, Battle is also a Kenyon alumna. During her time at Kenyon, she was a member of the Black Student Union, a DJ for WKCO and a sister of the Nu Iota Alpha sorority. She has served as a member of the Alumni Council since graduating in 1997, and she was a recipient of the College’s Alumni Humanitarian Service Award in 2006 for her lifelong commitment to humanitarian work. She was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the College in 2018 and was listed as a Kenyon Newsmaker — an award reserved for Kenyon’s most influential alumni — in 2022.
Acting President Jeff Bowman, who formally invited Battle to speak at Commencement, shared his enthusiasm regarding her selection. “She’s a very forceful and charismatic speaker,” Bowman said. “She has brought a lot of really thoughtful energy to climate-related activism and environmental sustainability. I think she’s a really good choice.”