University of Vermont

Speakers to December Graduates: We're Counting on You

December graduation photo
Saturday's celebration conferred degrees on 270 graduates. (Photo: Sally McCay)

The bitter cold outside was no match for the warmth and good cheer inside the Athletic Complex Multipurpose Facility on Saturday, as UVM’s 212th commencement, its last to be held in December, unfolded ceremoniously.

Between the 270 graduates (219 undergraduates and 51 graduate and medical students), family and friends, over 2,200 people were packed into the complex. As at May commencements, the festiviites began at the event's far reaches with a color guard complete with pipes and drums solemnly leading a robust platform party to the platform at center stage.

The speeches that followed -- from representatives of UVM’s various governance groups, President Tom Sullivan, Provost David Rosowsky, and commencement speaker Major Jackson, poet and Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor of English – had a common theme: the challenge of the times, the great responsibilities graduates face in entering a troubled world, and the faith their elders have in their abilities to help right the planetary ship of state.  

“At the University of Vermont, our educational mission is to prepare students to be dedicated, ethical, accountable, global leaders,” said President Tom Sullivan. “As graduates of UVM, you are now well equipped to become highly effective leaders.” Graduates have great responsibility, Sullivan said.  “And I hope you will build your ambitions and set your sights to make a difference in the society that you move into.”

“You're graduating at a time of great challenge and great opportunity for our nation, for our world, for our planet, and for our species,” added Rosowsky.  “And we know you are among the brightest, most well educated, most curious, and most capable graduates of any university.  We have very high hopes for each of you. “

Commencement speaker Jackson mock threatened a test at the end of his remarks, which the poet said would be a “proliferation of allusions and similes, quotations of poets, philosophers, singers that fly in your direction.”

That was only slightly overstated, as Jackson managed to quote everyone from Shelly to Kafka to Harry Potter. 

Jackson added a new theme to the collective wisdom speakers imparted:  the importance and challenge of self discovery. 

“We need celebratory moments like today,” he said. “To not only rejoice at your completing your studies at University of Vermont, but to also reflect upon the journey, to look back and ruminate on the meaning of your most recent achievement and growth as a human being.”

But then he returned to the message of the day. 

“I know telling you that our renewal as a civilization is in your hands is a tall order,” he said. “Many of you just got a good night's sleep after weeks of studying and months and months of sitting in classes, and now I am asking you to save the world?  Not really.  Not exactly. We realize today that you are, more than anyone else here, especially endowed with the spirit and responsibility to continue the betterment of society and to sustain the practices and beliefs that make us great.  If we have done our jobs, if our pedagogy is far‑reaching and radical, then we have instilled in our students an irrepressible commitment to independent thinking, a moral and intellectual inclination towards improving the world and a grand optimism for the future and their role in creating that future.