University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

President's Remarks

Convocation 2009

President’s Remarks
Daniel Mark Fogel, President of the University of Vermont

Thank you, Professor Burgmeier; thank you, Katarina Bakas, for that stirring rendition of our national anthem; thank you, Governor Douglas for your very thoughtful remarks; and thank you everyone for joining us today as we celebrate once again the opening of a new academic year at the University of Vermont.

We are fortunate in the academy to work and study in an environment where renewal comes frequently—semester to semester, graduation to graduation, convocation to convocation. And so, today, we renew and reaffirm our commitment to the endeavors of the classroom, the laboratory, the studio, the concert hall, the teaching hospital, our lakes, streams, forests, farms . . . all of the places where we teach and learn, study and create, and serve—advancing the discovery, transmission, and application of knowledge for the good of our state, our nation, and our world.

Welcome to the leaders of the university community and our state who join me on the platform today. We’re so very pleased to be joined by some of the people who give of their time and talent to make the University of Vermont the special place that it is, including, at my far right, Robert S. Tyzbir, Professor of Nutrition & Food Sciences and University Herald; James W. Burgmeier, Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University Marshal and President of the Faculty Senate; Frank Cioffi, Vice-Chair of our Board of Trustees; Jane E. Knodell, Professor of Economics and Interim Senior Vice President and Provost; Daron Lynn Raleigh, Class of 2010, President of the Senior Class Council; Alison Mae O'Leary, Class of 2011, President of the Junior Class Council; a missed flight has prevented Adrian Laurence Cadbury II, Class of 2012, President of the Sophomore Class Council, from joining us. And to my far left, Beth R. Walsh, President of the Staff Council; Graduate Student Senate President Melanie M. Brown; Bryce M. Jones, Class of 2011, President of the Student Government Association; our keynote speaker this evening, Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder; and the Honorable James H. Douglas, Governor of this great State of Vermont.

Welcome to all of our exceptional faculty and staff, and to today’s distinguished guests.

And, of course, a special welcome to the University of Vermont Class of 2013. You are an impressive group. It is wonderful to see the first-year class before us in person and in force. Your diversity promises to make the UVM community richer. Your academic excellence promises to make the intellectual adventure in our classrooms and laboratories deeper. Your originality, commitment, and energy promise to shape this University and make us stronger.

Though we won’t have a final tally until after the last day to add and drop classes, we’re projecting an entering class of 2,620, making you the largest entering class in UVM history. You are also the most diverse ever: 11.9 percent of you—and more than 20% of those of you entering the Honors College—are from African-American, Latino/Latina, Asian-American, and Native American backgrounds (and may I interpolate that the rising diversity of UVM warmed the heart of a beloved colleague, Larry McCrorey, who died this past week, who came to UVM as a faculty member in 1966 as one of only two black members of the faculty, and who rose to become a distinguished professor, dean, and associate provost, and a leading champion of social justice in the Green Mountain State). You are a class of exceptional academic quality, smashing records for the number of Vermonters nominated by their schools as Green and Gold Scholars, the strongest students in their high school classes, and for the number of National Merit Scholars, mostly from out of state. And you represent 41 states and 12 foreign countries.

You join us at an auspicious moment. The tide is high for the University of Vermont. Just this month, UVM was 8th among national universities in the U.S. News &World Report list of "Top Up-and-Coming Schools" — institutions that have "recently made striking improvements or innovations — schools everyone should be watching," the magazine said. Also this month, Sierra magazine ranked the University of Vermont fourth in the country on its just released "10 Coolest Schools" list for our commitment to the environment. How cool is that?

Over the past several years, our university has been lauded on a variety of fronts — for leading environmental ethics and practices, for outstanding primary care training in our College of Medicine, for overall excellence in undergraduate education. And — a promising prospect for the Class of 2013 several years from now — the Wall Street Journal ranked the University of Vermont among the top twenty public universities for success in placing students in the nation's most prestigious medical, law, and business graduate programs, and Business Week placed Vermont seventh among public universities nationwide in a list of colleges whose bachelor’s degree graduates earn the highest salaries.

That is just a glimpse of the good word about UVM today. And while we’re very pleased to find ourselves on a list of the “10 Coolest Schools,” our pride runs deeper at the University of Vermont — 218 years deep to our founding in 1791.

Growing from Vermont’s eighteenth-century roots, the achievements of our university and our alumni have changed the world. Today you become part of the fabric of this university where nineteenth-century president James Marsh helped revolutionize American higher education by creating the modern system of majors, minors, and electives; where UVM faculty nurtured the mind of Burlington native and alumnus John Dewey, one of the most influential progressive thinkers our nation has produced, who once said “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself”; and where the abiding social conscience of the University of the Green Mountains flowered in a Nobel Peace Prize to UVM alumna Jody Williams for leading the international campaign against land mines in 1997, flowered again in another Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 to Doctors Without Borders, when UVM alumnus John McGill was President of that organization’s U.S. Section,  and again in 2007, when UVM had a faculty co-winner of the prize, with other climate scientists and former Vice President Al Gore—can any other institution boast a ten-year run like that?

Following this ceremony, we will gather on the University Green for the twilight induction ceremony for the Class of 2013. As we do, I invite you to look around, fully absorb the setting, the beauty of the Green, the historic halls of University Place, the views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains beyond. Consider that UVM’s first president, Daniel Clarke Sanders, worked together with UVM’s first students on that very piece of land to clear the towering white pines and begin to carve out a campus on the hilltop. More than two hundred years ago, President Sanders wrote that to his mind the site where you will gather this evening was “the most healthy place on earth.”

Much has changed across two centuries, of course, but the core of that truth holds firm. This university; this livable, vibrant city; this cherished state are, indeed, among the healthiest places on earth to learn, to explore, to thrive by opening yourself to the myriad opportunities of the undergraduate experience. I encourage you to make the most of your years at UVM — delve deeply into your studies; connect meaningfully with the life of Burlington and the Green Mountain State beyond; care for yourselves and one another in the spirit of a university family that is open and affirming to all.

Now it is my privilege to introduce today’s speaker.

We are honored to have as our keynote speaker this evening Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. The book follows the true story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard University and founder of Partners in Health. Dr. Farmer has made it his mission to transform health care on a global scale by focusing on the world’s poorest and sickest communities. We asked all first-year students to read Mountains Beyond Mountains over the summer — and strongly encouraged the rest of the University community to do so as well — because it so eloquently illustrates the values of helping, healing, and human goodness that so many generations of UVM students have taken with them into the world.

Over his long career, Mr. Kidder’s writing has been prolific and outstanding. The Soul of a New Machine—a book celebrated for its insight into the world of high-tech corporate America—earned him a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award in 1982.

Other bestselling works include House (1985), Among Schoolchildren (1989), Old Friends (1993) and Home Town (1999). His most recent book, My Detachment, is an extraordinary account of Mr. Kidder’s experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. Writing for the first time about himself, he presents an unvarnished self-portrait of a young man coming of age in the controversial war that defined a generation.

Born in New York City in 1945, Mr. Kidder spent his childhood in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where his father was a lawyer and his mother a teacher. He attended Harvard College, where he earned a BA in 1967. From June 1968 until June 1969, he served as a lieutenant in Vietnam, service for which he was awarded a Bronze Star.

Following the war, Mr. Kidder obtained his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, where he participated in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a program known for the literary accomplishments of its faculty and alumni. It was there that he met Atlantic Monthly Contributing Editor Dan Wakefield, who helped him get his first assignment for the magazine as a freelance writer. His articles in The Atlantic have covered a broad array of topics, ranging from railroads to energy, architecture, and the environment, among others.

Tracy Kidder’s writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The New York Times Book Review and The New York Times OpEd page, and he has written several short works of fiction. Mr. Kidder lives with his wife in western Massachusetts and in Maine, where he is at work on a new book.

Following the Twilight Induction Ceremony, Mr. Kidder will be available to sign copies of his book in the Mt. Mansfield Room of the Davis Center.

Please join me in welcoming him to the podium for the University of Vermont’s 2009 Convocation address.

Last modified August 31 2009 12:29 PM

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