University of Vermont

Nearly 300 Students Recognized at December Graduation Ceremony

December commencement
For two years, UVM's has held a formal, offical commencement in December, complete with students dressed in cap and gown. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Just a few years back, UVM’s December graduation ceremony was a relatively modest affair. A few score graduates, dressed in ordinary attire, sat in pews in Ira Allen Chapel with their families, heard speeches from the president and other governance leaders, attended a reception – and went on their way. Some came back in May for a proper ceremony, but for many, December’s relative informalities were all the pomp and circumstance they had to show for the hard work and persistence that had earned them a UVM degree.    

In 2012 the university decided to turn the event into one more worthy of its participants, and on Saturday, Dec. 15, the second edition of the more ambitious ceremony -- officially, UVM's 210th commencement -- was on full, splendid display in the Multipurpose Room in Patrick Athletic Complex.

With a platform party several dozen strong, a flower bedecked stage, scurrying event coordinators with t-shirts and headphones, Vermont Public Television cameras and an audience of 2,500 filling every inch of the space, it would have been easy to mistake the event for those rained out May commencements that are held in the same space.   

To culminate the event, nearly 300 graduates dressed in cap and gown processed individually across the stage to be hooded, in the case of graduate students, or to receive diploma covers. Students will receive diplomas in January after the Faculty Senate has verified their coursework and grades for the fall semester. 

Not only did the December event rival its May cousin, it was in some ways superior – at least in its timing, said Faculty Senate president Julie Roberts, who presided over the proceedings and made brief opening remarks.

“…December gives you an off‑season jump on the job market, a little extra time to hone that resume and line up your references,” she said. “Those going on to graduate school will have a little more time, now that undergraduate school is finished, to navigate that process, which can certainly be stressful, in a more contemplatory manner.”

2012 graduates also heard a full-fledged address from UVM President Tom Sullivan just as they would in May, complete with a reference to John Kennedy and an exhortation to give back to society.

“Remember that with your talent, your education, your privilege and most importantly, your passion, you can solve the problems of what President Kennedy called the human destiny,” he said. “How do you want to change the world?”

And not least, the ceremony featured an official commencement speaker, Rachel Johnson, Robert L. Bickford Green and Gold Professor, former dean of the UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a nationally prominent nutritionist.

As a student, Johnson said, she had been inspired by her professors. But after a career of teaching, she had come full circle and was now inspired by her students. 

After telling the stories of two particularly noteworthy students, Johnson turned the message back on her audience. “You can see why our students inspire me,” she said. “You are the future. And based on what I see every day at UVM, our future is in good and capable hands.”

For the first time, honorary degrees were conferred at the December event, to Theresa L. Tomasi and, posthumously, Carl H. Reidel.

Tomasi, a class of 1950 alumna who adopted 27 children from countries around the world as a single mother and served in leadership positions for 29 years at the DeGoesbriand Hospital and the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont in Burlington, accepted the award in person.

Accepting on behalf of Reidel, who passed away in November 2011, was his wife Jean Richardson, a UVM professor emerita and former president of the Faculty Senate. Reidel launched the nation’s first university-wide interdisciplinary Environmental Program at UVM in 1972, and served as vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, director of the National Parks Association, the first chair of the Citizen Advisory Committee on the Future of Lake Champlain and as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives.

A total of 283 graduates participated in the ceremony. Receiving recognition were 14 doctoral students, 53 masters students and 216 undergraduate students. In all, 632 students were eligible to participate: 192 graduate students and 440 undergraduates. 

The December ceremony recognizes those students who completed their coursework at the end of the summer or who will complete degree requirements at the end of the fall semester.