Ceremonial Events - Commencement
Senator Jeffords, Governor Douglas, Vice-Chair Heath, members of the Board of Trustees, senior administrators and our distinguished deans, faculty, and staff, alumni, family, and friends of our graduates, above all members of the Class of 2006, welcome to our 202nd Commencement Exercises at The University of Vermont.
Two years ago, with this University’s 200th graduating class, we made a return to tradition, bringing the commencement ceremony back to the heart of our campus, on the beautiful University Green. After three commencements slated for the Green, some of us -- perhaps many of us -- fear that we may have established another new tradition. The return to the center of campus has come with a price it seems, with chill showers apparently fated for Commencement Sundays. The last two years we braved them.
This year, given the grim forecast, we thought it the better part of valor to give everyone a reprieve, to make the call early to spare all of you undue worry about Sunday morning, and also to spare the crews of dedicated UVM staff who would have labored outside through two rainy days and nights to prepare an event that might still have had to be moved at the last minute—and who have now been able to put time and effort into doing their very best to prepare this less-than-ideal space for your great day. And just look at the wonderful job they’ve done! Let’s have a hearty round of applause for the staff who have carried this off for all of us!
We hope that despite the weather this will be a beautiful and memorable day for every one of you as we celebrate the culmination of many days. We celebrate the day during your senior year of high school when you opened an envelope bearing the news that you’d been accepted to the University of Vermont. We celebrate the day your parents helped you carry your belongings – perhaps a few too many belongings -- up the stairs of Millis or Chittenden or Converse, then hugged you, urged you to take care of yourself, and got back in the car for the bittersweet ride home known to every parent here. We celebrate the days you began to find your way around the sidewalks of campus, the streets of Burlington, the back roads of Vermont. We celebrate the day you found a professor who became a mentor who became a friend. We celebrate the breakthroughs and epiphanies, the late nights in Bailey/Howe, the things that you feared that you couldn’t do and found you could, and the failures that are an inevitable part of any successful life. We celebrate the day in March 2005 when you sat in your dorm room, or a friend’s apartment, or an arena in Worcester, Mass. and leapt to your feet when T.J. Sorrentine sank the three that finished Syracuse. We celebrate the friends you have made in your years here, the friends you sit next to today, the friends of a lifetime. We celebrate the differences you have made on this campus, in this community, and in the world with your commitment to service.
We celebrate, for instance, the advocacy of the students in STAND (Students Take Action Now: Darfur), who, in an eloquent presentation by Jeffrey Skoldberg, a member of this graduating class, successfully convinced the UVM Board of Trustees to divest all investments that support the genocidal government in Sudan—and who are collecting funds around campus today to support the work that Doctors without Borders is doing with the refugees from that genocide. Look today for our STAND students-- you will not see a better example of the values of UVM and of the character and quality of our students in following the kind of course blazed by UVM graduate John McGill, who was President of the U.S. section of Doctors without Borders when that organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and by UVM graduate Jody Williams, when she won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for leading the international campaign against landmines. The students in STAND are wonderful representatives of the commitment of their UVM peers to equity, social justice, and hope. Their number includes four remarkable young men, Daniel Aguek, Achier Mou, Bior Bior, and Abraham Awolich, who came to Vermont just five years ago—members of a group known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan—who have found their way to Commencement Day as proud graduates of the University of Vermont. I ask that you join me in a round of applause for these outstanding students.
Another equally inspiring example of service is represented by our fourteen graduates, including Senior Class Council President Katie Kasarjian (who you heard from a few minutes ago), who are being commissioned through ROTC as officers in the United States Army. These students know what their dedication to defend the Constitution of the United States can mean. All of them were here on campus at the Ira Allen Chapel last fall for the solemn funeral service for 2nd Lieutenant Mark Procopio, UVM Class of 2004, who was killed on Nov. 2 in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, while he and his patrol attempted to help a downed Marine helicopter. Our newly commissioned graduates are the first class that entered the ROTC after September 1, knowing that they were preparing to serve a nation at war. They are the latest in a long and proud UVM tradition of service to the nation, going back to the days of Ira Allen himself, and I ask that they stand and be recognized with a round of applause.
On this day of celebration, there are many people to thank. Let us begin with the families who helped you become the person who earned admission to the University of Vermont, the mothers and fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters who supported you mentally, spiritually…financially, during your years here. Class of 2006, please join me in giving them a hand.
Families, I trust that you know this by now, but your students have been in good hands during their years here. They have studied with an outstanding faculty and had opportunities to join directly with their teachers in the exciting work of research and scholarship. They have been supported by a talented and dedicated staff that is the bedrock of this institution. Class of 2006 and families, please join me in a round of applause in appreciation for this University’s wonderful faculty and staff.
I’m flanked on this stage by outstanding leaders of our University, our state, and nation, and our world. Our Board of Trustees, our UVM administrative leaders, honored officials from state and national government, and distinguished honorary degree recipients – your support of this university and higher education are unwavering and an inspiration.
One member of our faculty and administrative leadership merits a very special mention today. The entire University community, and myself especially, give thanks to John Bramley, who at the end of next month will retire from his post of provost and senior vice president of the University and return to the faculty in Animal Sciences. Like the Class of 2006, I came here four years ago brand new to this place. I could not have had a better partner in the endeavor ahead than John Bramley, a distinguished scientist and superb academic administrator whose leadership has been central to the advance of this University over the past fifteen years.
There are many facts I could tell you about John Bramley, but perhaps none so revealing as the fact that he is the rare provost who would inspire a student to dress up in a cow costume in his honor. When John met with Student Government Association leaders earlier this month, he was greeted by Katie Kasarjian decked out in a white and black Holstein suit, authentic down to the pink plastic udders. Katie was paying homage, of course, to John’s ground-breaking work as a scientist, bovine mastitis research that promises to counter that bacterial disease that is so costly to animal health and dairy farmers’ livelihoods. By dressing up in that goofy suit, Katie was playing to John’s well-known, keen sense of humor and his ability to connect with people across the campus – faculty, staff, and students – to work for the good of the institution. I can say without exaggeration that there is virtually no area in which the University of Vermont has advanced over the course of the past five years in which John Bramley’s leadership, vision, energy, resolve, integrity, quick wits, good humor, and compassion have not been primary and indeed indispensable determinants of success. It is with a high sense of privilege, gratitude, and admiration for this superb colleague that I ask you to join me in a round of applause for our Senior Vice President and Provost, John Bramley.
Just as the University of Vermont will see the retirement of a great man from the ranks of leadership this year, so will the state of Vermont. We are honored today by the presence of United States Senator James Jeffords. Over the course of nearly four decades, Senator Jeffords has been a devoted public servant for his native state. After serving in the Vermont Senate and then as Vermont Attorney General, Mr. Jeffords went to Washington in 1975, where he would serve seven terms as a congressman followed by three terms as a senator. In the past year, Senator Jeffords played a critical role in the University of Vermont’s designation as one of ten National University Transportation Centers, advancing UVM efforts to identify environmentally and economically sustainable strategies for our country’s critical transportation issues.
Such leadership on environmental and conservation issues will be among the legacies of Senator Jeffords’ years on Capitol Hill. On a host of other issues --- health care to education to civil rights – Senator Jeffords has consistently acted with conscience and courage. Guided by a true compassionate conservatism, Jim Jeffords has supported what he believes is right even when, in the world of partisan politics, that has not always been the easy path. In both thought and deed, he is the very embodiment of the independent character of the state of Vermont.
I’m pleased today to announce that the next chapter of Senator Jeffords’ professional life and service to Vermont will be centered right here at this University. Senator Jeffords will be undertaking an ambassadorial role at UVM and will be working closely with our College of Education and Social Services and our National Institute on Leadership, Disability, and Students Placed at Risk on issues that are vital to the education and development of our nation’s youth. We are also thrilled that, starting next year, Senator Jeffords will take a direct role in this effort as a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont. Having a man of his political expertise and experience working with our faculty and students is a rare opportunity. Please join me in a round of applause in recognition of Senator Jeffords and his years of outstanding and dedicated service to the state of Vermont.
And finally, Class of 2006, we thank you. During your years on this campus you have become part of the fabric and history of this institution and enriched us all. Now you join our alumni – a group that includes recipients not only of Nobel but also of Pulitzer Prizes; CEO’s of major corporations and some of our nation’s top teachers; pioneering scientists; and celebrated artists. Now it is your time to build the life you’ve imagined, to take your years of education here into the world and make it a better place. Best wishes and congratulations…
Now it is my privilege to introduce our commencement speaker today. Throughout
his long and varied career, Gustavo Esteva has been a passionate advocate for
the self-determination of indigenous communities and other marginalized peoples.
After beginning his career working for large corporations, Mr. Esteva worked
in economic development for the Mexican government, playing a key role in shaping
the country’s agricultural and rural development policies. Now, as an
unaffiliated intellectual living in a small Indian village in Oaxaca, Mexico,
Mr. Esteva lectures worldwide and writes regularly for popular and academic
audiences, sharing his insight through more than 30 books and hundreds of articles
in fields that include development studies, economics, anthropology, philosophy
Though his home is thousands of miles from this campus, the ties between Gustavo Esteva and the University of Vermont have grown strong and numerous over the past decade. His connection to the University began in the mid-1990s when several faculty members in the College of Education and Social Services read his book Escaping Education and initiated a correspondence. That relationship would grow into collaborative research, visits to Oaxaca, and ultimately, UVM’s innovative semester-long study abroad program in Mexico.
Mr. Esteva’s assistance in Oaxaca has been vital to creating opportunities for UVM faculty and students to learn firsthand about how indigenous communities are organized and experience the ongoing political and cultural revitalization that is happening in that region. Mr. Esteva’s powerful lectures are life-changing for many students. A first series of talks that he calls “shock therapy” challenges the very ability of modern Western rationality to understand indigenous cultural realities, giving UVM students a deeper appreciation for the opportunities and difficulties of cross-cultural encounter that goes far beyond the usual study abroad experience.
Such appreciation and understanding is critical to the future of our world. We are honored to have with us today a man who has helped draw Burlington, Vermont closer to Oaxaca, Mexico, a revolutionary thinker, an inspired and provocative teacher. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Gustavo Esteva.