University of Vermont

217th Commencement Ceremonies - May 19 and 20, 2018

Greeting: Catherine A. Paris
Senior Lecturer of Plant Biology, University Marshal and President of the Faculty Senate

Catherine ParisGreetings, Members of the Class of 2017!

May you live in interesting times.  This expression, long represented as an ancient Chinese curse, was in fact first used in 1936, by British statesmen Sir Austen Chamberlain, in a speech addressing Germany’s violation of a treaty drafted to guarantee peace in western Europe.  He said “There is no doubt that the curse ‘May you live in interesting times” has fallen on us. We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.”

May you live in interesting times.  Why is it identified as a curse?  The words, which at face value sound more like a blessing, are always used ironically, with the clear implication that uncomplicated times of peace and tranquility are necessarily preferable to those of conflict and turmoil.

But graduates, we live in interesting times.  On January 20th, just three days after the start of the new semester, the 45th President of the United States was sworn in.  A week later, he signed Executive Order 13769, which aimed to reduce the number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. and suspended the entry of those from Iran, Iraq, and five other predominantly Muslim nations.

Here on the UVM campus and across the country, international students and visiting scholars felt suddenly unsafe and unwelcome here, wondering if indeed the lamp was still lifted beside the golden door. 

However, in response to this executive order, the UVM community drew together around its vulnerable members.  The message, voiced by UVM President Sullivan in a series of addresses to the campus community, was “you are safe here, you are welcome here.”  The values expressed in Our Common Ground: respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility, provide the foundation for that to which we aspire as an open, inclusive, and affirming community.

Graduates, you have the foundation to meet the challenges that lie ahead because of our values here at UVM, the same values you know so well from your experiences at home, in your former schools, and in your places of worship.

May you live in interesting times: As Senator Robert F. Kennedy said of his own times in the mid-1960s, “Like it or not, we live in interesting times.  They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also more open to the creative energy of men (and women!) than any other time in history.”

 Class of 2017, the world awaits you and you, full of creative energy and passion, are ready for the world.  May you carry with you a bit of UVM as you go out to meet it.  I wish you the very best on the road ahead. 

Last modified June 12 2017 07:51 AM