WATERVILLE – Colby College’s Class of 2011 is a playful bunch.

Members of the class are playful not only in the sense of being spontaneous and creative, but of being rebellious and intrepid, said class speaker Aleah Starr, an English major from Montpelier, Vt., at the college’s graduation ceremony Sunday on the lawn of Miller Library.

The commencement speaker, Rajiv Shah, leader of the U.S. Agency for International Development, followed Starr’s speech with his own call to students to use their innovative ideas to improve the well-being of people around the world.

The college awarded honorary doctorates to Shah, novelist Richard Ford, Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue, philanthropist Bernard Osher and sociologist and African-American studies professor Adelaide Cromwell.

Colby graduated nearly 500 students. Just one Maine student, from Lincolnville, graduated summa cum laude out of a total of 26 students to receive the top academic honor.

Starr reclaimed the definition of “playful” in her speech, saying it is an essential component in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s why students in her class played broomball and climbed to the top of a building on campus to watch a meteor shower.

Her classmates also “played with convention” by protesting stereotypes and “played with history and its wild trajectory” by sending off the first college graduates in some people’s families, she said.

“Ultimately I believe it is curiosity and courage in the company of our playmates” that allows for change, she said. “At Colby, playfulness was an enormous value” where students learned the “power and pleasure of intellectual play.”

Shah followed Starr’s address by praising the college’s international focus.

About 11.5 percent of students come from other countries, with 62 countries represented; and 67 percent of students study abroad, according to Colby’s website.

It was a trip to India the summer after Shah graduated from college that prompted his career in international development, he said: “It changed my idea of what I wanted to do with my life.”

He has since led the U.S. government’s response to the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and spearheaded President Obama’s Feed the Future food security initiative.

No matter what subject they study, or where they end up working, Colby students have the means to fight malaria, end hunger and alleviate poverty, he said.

“That international focus is a deep part of your legacy,” Shah said. “Colby grads are at the forefront of helping serve those in greatest need.”