University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Class of 2018 Goes Forth

2018 graduates tossing their caps into the air on the green at the end of commencement
Photograph by Tilman Phleger


Class of 2018 Goes Forth

GRADUATION | On a cool May morning, spring showers passing through Burlington, graduates, family, friends and faculty gathered on the University Green for Commencement 2018. UVM’s Class of 2018 includes an estimated 3,072 graduates, degree recipients hailing from 44 states and 36 countries.

The graduates heard from one of their own, alumnus Alexander Nemerov, UVM Class of 1985, in a lyrical, visually evocative, and highly personal commencement address befitting one of the nation’s leading art historians and scholars of cultural history. Nemerov, the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Stanford University, earned his UVM bachelor’s degree in art history and English. 

At the outset, Nemerov anchored his words to the graduates in his own time at UVM and, more specifically, with recollected moments grounded in the setting where he spoke from the stage—facing Williams Hall, Waterman Building at his back. Nemerov recalled studying on the fourth floor of Williams, gazing out across the lake at a particular farm with “a red barn, a copper roof, a green field.” He described the Waterman classroom where he watched the movie of “Henry V” for a Shakespeare course, becoming entranced by the reflections of the film, medieval knights on horseback, playing across the classroom windows. 

These moments, and others from throughout Nemerov’s life, are united by his sense that they are “private illuminations” that “allow us—carefully, tentatively, but sometimes with great power and purpose—to move through the world.” Nemerov warned that too often society tells us, and we tell ourselves, that such moments are worthless, an affront to our mutual agreement as a culture “that we not ask big questions, that we not marvel at the very fact of being alive.”

At their essence, Nemerov said, these fleeting experiences speak to the truth of goodness, beauty, and unity in the world. “These moments of good, of calm, which I believe we’ve all had in some form, are delicate. They are the moments when the world does not devour you, does not drown you, but instead raises you up, keeps you afloat, buoyant, in some strange awareness of the fragile balance of being alive. The moments are delicate, yes, but I’ve also noticed that they’re indestructible. Maybe they are even the most indestructible part of us.” 

"Like on a brilliant day here in Vermont, when the lake is blue or silver or gray. I sense all the boats that have ever floated on it, the schooners and sailboats and dories and side-wheelers; I feel all the times that have been. And I am down among the fishes, some hundreds of feet deep, there with the blips on the fisherman’s sonar screen that are the schools, the living creatures that for a while remain living still. And I am in some Adirondack valley, where a fox eats a mouse, the fox tilting its head back, the better to bring the back teeth into play. And I am at our near shore, looking at the moonlight glinting off the leaves in the trees, off the faces of the lovers as they kiss. I am all of these things. You are too." —closing words of Alex Nemerov’s Commencement address 

Full text of Alex Nemerov’s address:

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