University of Vermont

Honorary Degree Recipients

Commencement 2004 Honorary Degree Recipients

Seven outstanding individuals will receive honorary degrees at the University of Vermont’s 200th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 23. Recognized for their achievement and service to the university, the State of Vermont and the nation will be Commencement speaker David Mamet, Florence Knoll Bassett, Edwin I. Colodny, Charles W. Johnson, Michael L. Lomax, Grace Paley and Stephen B. Rubenstein.

Commencement Speaker: David A. Mamet
Director, essayist, novelist, poet and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet is one of a handful of American writers whose work has found almost as much success on the screen as it has on the stage. His plays often deal with the decline of morality in a world which has become an emotional and spiritual wasteland. In 1984, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross, which recreated the atmosphere of a gritty Chicago real estate office. His critically acclaimed screenplays include The Verdict, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog (which earned both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for best screenplay), and The Spanish Prisoner. Mamet has lived part-time in Vermont for nearly 40 years.

Florence Knoll Bassett of Coconut Grove, FL, was recognized last year for her contributions to 20th century modern design with the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and art patrons. A pioneer of space planning and a visionary furniture designer, Bassett’s groundbreaking creations have become the gold standard of modern classics. She is a strong advocate for conserving farmland and consequently donated the development rights to her Vermont farm to the American Farmland Trust. Bassett and her late husband, Harry Hood Bassett, have given generously to UVM’s College of Medicine and Proctor Maple Research Center.

Edwin I. Colodny of Burlington is well known and respected for his years of service to Vermont, the Burlington community and the university. UVM made big strides during Colodny's 13-month interim presidency (April 2001 to June 2002), with endeavors that ranged from launching a quarter-billion-dollar capital campaign to reorganizing the university’s academic structure. Colodny’s recipe for success includes his extraordinary people skills, attention to detail, a commitment to serving customers, the ability to make clear decisions and an instinct for action. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Colodny was formerly president and CEO of U.S. Airways. He has served as board chair, and is currently senior trustee, at the University of Rochester, and is past commissioner of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. His past honors include the Vermont Leadership Award.

Naturalist Charles W. Johnson of East Montpelier has enhanced environmental awareness through public service and books including In Season: A Natural History of the New England Year, and Bogs of the Northeast, the first popular book to deal with bogs in a comprehensive yet authoritative manner. His elegant and informative writing masterfully explores the dynamics that shape the natural world in New England—not only for plants and wildlife, but for people as well. Johnson, who conducted doctoral studies at UVM, served as Vermont State Naturalist from 1978 to 2000 and is the recipient of an Achievement Award from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

Michael L. Lomax of New Orleans, La., is president and CEO elect of the United Negro College Fund, the nation's oldest and most successful minority higher education assistance organization. He became president of Dillard University in 1997. Under his student-focused approach to leadership the college has repositioned itself as one of the premiere undergraduate institutions in the South and boosted enrollment by 44 percent. Lomax was formerly a professor of literature at several universities and served in municipal government. Dillard, a historically black university founded in 1869, has strong connections to Vermont through two UVM alumni: Oscar Atwood (Class of 1866) who in 1890 became president of Straight University, which later merged with New Orleans University to become Dillard University; and George Washington Henderson (Class of 1877), the first African-American to join Phi Beta Kappa, who was recruited by Atwood to serve as Dillard’s chair of theology.

Author and activist Grace Paley of Thetford, one of the great voices in contemporary literature and a favorite guest lecturer at UVM, is currently Vermont State Poet. Her highly acclaimed volumes of short fiction and poetry are united by her signature interweaving of personal and political truths, her extraordinary capacity for empathy and her pointed, funny depiction of the small and large events in daily life. Actively involved in anti-war, feminist and anti-nuclear movements since 1961, she regards herself as a "somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist.” Her honors include Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the National Institute of Arts Award and Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence.

Stephen B. Rubenstein (UVM, 1961) of Little Falls, N.J., grew Rubenstein Properties from a small family business to a conglomerate of industrial, real estate and defense contracting companies that utilize environmentally sensitive design. An alumnus and longtime advisor to the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, he has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the environment and to education. In 1996, he made the largest gift the school (then called the School of Natural Resources) had received at that time. Recently, he committed $15 million—the largest gift in the university’s history—to promote study of the environment at UVM.

Honorary Degree Nominations for 2005 Commencement

Last modified May 25 2004 04:21 PM

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