Academic Ceremonies - Commencement
Daniel Mark Fogel,
President of the University of Vermont
Governor Douglas, Chairman Boyce, members of the Board of Trustees, vice presidents, deans, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends of our graduates—and, above all, members of the Class of 2009, welcome to our 205th Commencement Exercises at The University of Vermont.
Graduates, five years ago, we made a return to tradition, moving the Commencement ceremony back from Centennial Field to the heart of campus. It seemed right that we should celebrate on this beautiful Green, on the very piece of land upon which Ira Allen founded this university.
Yet we’ve coped with some adversity on this grand stage. More than once weather has chased us indoors. And when we have stayed the course, there has been rain and chill to challenge the mettle of our Yankee fortitude and test the perils of high heels on sodden ground. Rain in the Commencement weather forecast sends an English professor to his bookcases. Please allow me a moment to share some lines by Emily Dickinson that haunted me last night:
Like Rain it sounded till it curved
And then I knew 'twas Wind—
It walked as wet as any Wave
But swept as dry as sand—
When it had pushed itself away
To some remotest Plain
A coming as of Hosts was heard
It filled the Wells, it pleased the Pools
It warbled in the Road—
It pulled the spigot from the Hills
And let the Floods abroad—
It loosened acres, lifted seas
The sites of Centres stirred
Then like Elijah rode away
Upon a Wheel of Cloud.
So like Elijah riding away—ascending to heaven—upon a Wheel of Cloud, the storm has cleared away for us. And yet I can’t resist a bit of fanciful explication of Dickinson’s text. I’d suggest that the poet may have brought Elijah into this poem because there is a strain of folklore that associates the prophet Elijah with thunder and with the coming of summer rains. But in the spirit of fun, let me offer for our occasion a play on another bit of folklore about Elijah. An old proverb has it—I wonder if Wolfgang knows this one—that when dogs are happy for no reason, it is because Elijah is in the neighborhood. Why not invert the concept and change the animal in the adage, thus: When Catamounts are happy for good reason, it is because the storm like Elijah has rolled right out of their Green Mountain neighborhood upon a Wheel of Cloud?
Class of 2009, your graduation from the University of Vermont is upon you, this moment that seemed impossibly distant when you first met many of the people who sit next to you today as classmates and friends. You gathered on this Green and lit candles together in the induction ceremony for new students, and over the next four years you would forge memories to last a lifetime. Your experiences have been as diverse as your fields of study and personal pursuits.
But there is one thing you all share from your years here, and that is direct experience with change — dramatic, inevitable, life-altering change. You’ve seen it in your own lives: the inspiring professor who impelled you to change your major; the service-learning course that changed your sense of the difference you can make in a community; the study-abroad experience that transformed your sense not only of the world but also of your very self.
You’ve seen it at the University of Vermont, where we’ve advanced with new facilities and programs, continuing our rise as one of the nation’s premier small research universities. But for us the impact of change has also been harsh. We have seen personal tragedy, like the loss of Michelle-Gardener Quinn early in your UVM career. And like the nation and all of its constituents parts — states, cities, businesses, industries, and non-profits, including colleges and universities everywhere — this University has grappled with hard realities as we have worked our way through the turbulence of a global financial crisis.
Change, of course, has a familiar ring to it these days. On November 4, many of you poured into the streets to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s undeniable that that day marked a watershed change for our nation. You will long remember that when history was made in 2008 and 2009 you were in your senior year at the University of Vermont.
And now you leave our campus and enter a world that changes at a breathtaking pace, with every advance and decline reported, detailed, and analyzed via cable networks, the Internet, and the twitter of Twitter. Much of the news is unsettling. No doubt some comfort with uncertainty, some ease with ambiguity, is essential to going forth with grace and readiness into the suddenly changeable weather of our world.
Also essential, though, is a profound belief that we are not merely victims to the curving winds of change. You have the ability to create change of your own making. It will never be simple, nor will it be easy. But I urge you to hold on to what I hope you feel now – the optimism and energy of open minds and a high sense of possibility. Graduates, the world lies all before you. And I would not be much of a professor if I did not urge you to keep pace with change through a commitment to learning throughout your life. When, a week or two ago, you completed the last assignments and exams for your newly earned degree, it was only a beginning.
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, guardians, grandparents, brothers and sisters who supported you mentally, spiritually…financially, during your years here. Class of 2009, please join me in giving them a hand.
Families, your students have been well cared for during their years here. They have studied with an outstanding faculty. They have been supported by a talented and dedicated staff. Class of 2009 and families, please join me in a round of applause in appreciation for this University’s wonderful faculty and staff.
Let us pause, also, to pay respect to the latest in a long and proud UVM tradition of service to the nation, going back to the days of Ira Allen himself. I ask that our ROTC graduates who are being commissioned as officers in the United States Army stand and be recognized with a round of applause.
And finally, our entire Class of 2009, 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. It is now your time as alumni of the University of Vermont to build the life you’ve imagined, to take your years of education out into the world and change it, and thus to write the next chapters in the annals of achievement of those who have studied, and lived, and loved, and grown on the campus around this Green. Best wishes and congratulations.
And now it is my privilege to introduce to you our speaker for the 2009 Commencement address.
One corridor of the Vermont statehouse in Montpelier features portraits of the state’s past governors. There you’ll find a painting of Governor Howard Dean. He is posed in a blue denim shirt, dungarees, and hiking boots. He sits casually along a lakeshore next to a canoe, a paddle in his left hand.
It’s not the portrait you expect to find in a gilded frame along a marble hallway. With all due respect, Governor Dean looks as if he leapt directly from the pages of the L.L. Bean catalog. Yet, with a bit more thought, you realize he looks every bit what you would expect of the leader of our gloriously green Green Mountain State.
Howard Dean served Vermont as governor for twelve years. His six terms, spanning 1991 to 2003, were marked by balanced budgets and by his championing of healthcare coverage for pregnant women and children. The latter was most befitting of this physician who continued his medical practice through his early years in Vermont politics. In 2000, Governor Dean carried forward the proud Vermont tradition of pioneering social justice when he signed the state’s landmark civil union legislation into law.
Soon, the governor would step onto the national political stage. On June 23, 2003 downtown Burlington was jammed with thousands of supporters as Howard Dean delivered a rousing speech, officially tossing his hat in the ring for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. While the governor would seize the early lead, shifting the race and the minds of many with his adamant stand against the war in Iraq, the nomination was not to be.
But that 2004 election bid solidified Howard Dean’s place as a strong new leader for his party, and his campaign sparked a revolution in the advance of the Internet as a vehicle to harness grassroots political support. The next stop for Governor Dean would be the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, where he spearheaded the “50 State Strategy,” which refused to accept divisive red state/blue state assumptions and effectively broadened the party’s reach.
The University of Vermont shares this hilltop with Fletcher Allen Health Care, comprising, at the intersection of the teaching hospital and UVM’s outstanding College of Medicine one of the nation’s finest academic medical centers. It was here that Howard Dean came in the late 1970s to complete his medical residency in the hospital under the tutelage of the faculty of the UVM College of Medicine. And it was in Vermont that this native New Yorker and his wife Dr. Judith Steinberg would put down roots, start their medical practices, and raise their children, Paul and Ann. This life trajectory for young Dr. Dean redounded to the extraordinary good fortune of the citizens of Vermont.
Please join me in welcoming a man who continues to be an outstanding leader for our state and for our nation: Governor Howard Dean.
Last modified May 23 2010 07:29 PM