University of Vermont

Flag Raising Ceremony Honoring South Sudan Set For July 23

The idea of raising a flag representing the Republic of South Sudan – the world’s newest nation – was inconceivable only a few weeks ago to Akol Aguek, assistant director of admissions and transfer coordinator at the University of Vermont. Now, after seeing it raised across the globe since the July 9 declaration, the member of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan wants to raise one in Vermont.

The Independence of Republic of South Sudan Celebration is scheduled for Saturday, July 23 at 11 a.m. at the Davis Center with Aguek serving as master of ceremonies. Members of the local Sudanese and Burlington community will gather together to listen to the U.S. and South Sudan national anthems played on the radio while being sung by Sudanese children as choir master and UVM senior John Machuei Mathiang hoists the flag.

“For someone who grew up during war and who has seen the dying and sacrifices made by the Sudanese people, something like this is unimaginable,” said Aguek, who came to Vermont in 2001 with 24 other children of the Dinka tribe driven from their homes by civil war and forced to live in refugee camps. “Think how many times a new country comes into existence – almost never. It really is unbelievable to anyone born during my lifetime and before that this has happened.”

Following the flag raising, Mading Machar, Sudanese Community chairman; Patrick Brown, director of student life; and Beth Wiser, director of admissions will also offer comment. The ceremony will close with the Sudanese Community singing revolutionary songs and performing traditional dances. Attendees will then attend a related afternoon event at 2:30 at the St. James Episcopal Church in Essex involving another flag hoisting, singing and dancing and speakers.

Aguek, who received both his bachelor’s degree in economics in 2005 and MBA in 2011 from UVM, says the university is a fitting place to hold the ceremony considering that about a dozen South Sudanese have graduated from UVM. Two of those graduates, Abraham Akec Awolich ’05 and Deng Abbas Tong ’08, have been working in various capacities for the creation of South Sudan and are involved in helping with the development of the new nation, according to Aguek.

“It is a great thing for UVM to have trained and graduated these students,” said Aguek. “One of the major issues facing South Sudan is that there has not been education there for 25 years. They will need economists, engineers, doctors and other people who were educated elsewhere to go back and help build the new country. No one wants a failed state.”