University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

President’s Remarks

Daniel Mark Fogel,
President of the University of Vermont       

Welcome and thank you all 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, the forests and the 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.
We’ve heard this afternoon from our governor, the vice chair of our Board of Trustees, and the chair of our Faculty Senate. If I may take a moment, I’d like to introduce to you the other university leaders sharing the platform today. We are honored to be joined by Ted Madden, president of the Alumni Association; and Ida Russin, president of the Staff Council.

And it’s with special pride that I introduce the outstanding student leadership of our campus: Dustin Evatt, president of the Graduate Student Senate; Kofi Mensah, president of the Student Government Association; Erik Graham, president of the Inter-Residence Association; Kalvin Hassell, president of the Senior Class Council; Julia Shotwell, president of the Junior Class Council; and Courtney Robinson, president of the Sophomore Class Council.

Class of 2014, the video that opened our convocation today said it in a word: Begin. Today marks the moment that you begin a new chapter in your life that will surely be both inspiring and challenging. It will be up to you to make the most of the experience, not only to learn here but to grow here.

Even before any of you have set foot in a single classroom, we know that you are an impressive group. Your diversity promises to make the UVM community richer; your academic excellence promises to make the intellectual exploration in our classrooms deeper; your originality, commitment and energy promise to shape this university into an ever-more vibrant institution.

While we are fortunate to have you, you are also fortunate to begin your education at the University of Vermont in 2010. In recent years, the signs of UVM’s advance to a place among the top small universities in the country have been many. We have been lauded for being among the nation’s up-and-coming schools, for our leadership as an environmentally responsible institution, for our record placing graduates in the best medical, law, and business graduate programs in the nation. Our outstanding faculty excel in drawing funding support for their research and scholarly endeavors, and they publish widely in leading journals such as Science and Nature. In recent years young professors among our science and engineering faculty have won prestigious national early career awards.

And our students follow this example of excellence. Each year more of our undergraduates win or are finalists in national scholarship and fellowship programs such as the Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater, and Truman.

That is where we stand today, but I also urge you to consider the heritage of the community you join. 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, where UVM faculty nurtured the mind of Burlington native and alumnus John Dewey, father of progressive education, where the abiding social conscience of the university of the Green Mountains flowered in a remarkable run of two alumni connections to the Nobel peace prize in 1997 and again in 1999.

Later today we will gather on the university green for the twilight induction ceremony. As we do, I invite you to look around, fully absorb the setting, the beauty of the college green, the historic halls of University Row, the views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains. Consider that UVM's first president worked together with the University’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. (It was much harder work being a president back then.) More than 200 years ago, President Daniel Clark Sanders wrote that to his mind, the site where he cleared that wilderness, and where you will gathering 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 up to the myriad opportunities of the undergraduate experience. I encourage you to make the most of your years at UVM, to delve deeply into your studies, to connect meaningfully with the life of Burlington and the Green Mountain State beyond, to 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. After spending part of your summer reading “Funny in Farsi,” Firoozeh Dumas, her family and her life have certainly grown fondly familiar to you and to all of us.

It is the sort of familiarity our world greatly needs. The abundant humor and shared humanity of her memoir are healthy and welcome counterpoints to what we’ve come to expect from the media — a steady diet of extremism and fear consistently served up when the subject is Iran, Islam, or the Middle East.
Born in Iran, raised in the United States and Iran, married to a Frenchman, our guest speaker’s life has been one of crossing boundaries. Not only has she shared that experience through her memoirs, “Funny in Farsi” and “Laughing Without an Accent,” she has traveled widely as a popular and engaging speaker. Her commentaries have been broadcast on National Public Radio and published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and Lifetime Magazine.

Among other honors, “Funny in Farsi” earned Firoozeh Dumas a place among the finalists for the Thurber Prize for American Humor and the Audie Award for best audio book. She was runner-up for both awards, but she had some pretty impressive competition. The audio book prize went to Bob Dylan; the humor award, to Jon Stewart.

For readers of “Funny in Farsi,” it is easy to imagine her father pointing out, as he is fond of doing, that Jon Stewart wrote his book with a team of writers while his daughter wrote hers alone, in the early morning hours before her children awoke.

No word on what Mr. Jazayeri has to say about Bob Dylan’s. Perhaps our speaker will share that with us today…
Please join me in welcoming Firoozeh Dumas.

Last modified September 24 2010 01:03 PM