Academic Ceremonies - Commencement
A. John Bramley Interim President
Thank you, good morning, and welcome.
It is impossible to be in this setting—seated on the historic green, surrounded by landmark buildings that date to our university’s first century, backed by the vista of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains beyond—without feeling a strong sense of place.
Looking back on your years at the University of Vermont, it’s one of my greatest hopes for all of our graduates that you have not been merely in this place, but of this place.
I’m optimistic that is the case because helping our students become of this place is something that we do particularly well at the University of Vermont. Our graduates today have become a part of the Burlington and Vermont communities in many ways. You’ve volunteered your time at the food shelf, worked with kids at the King Street Center, joined with your neighbors in the Vermont tradition of Green Up Day, followed the call of Professor Frank Bryan and ventured out to Starksboro or Huntington or Underhill the first Tuesday of March to see for yourself that Town Meeting is alive and well and a vital cog in citizen democracy the way we do it here in the Green Mountains.
We are the University of Vermont. You are the University of Vermont. Those who study and write about food cite the concept of terroir, a French word meaning the distinct sense of the land, of a particular place that is embodied in the food a region produces. Well, I would assert that there is an educational terroir at the University of Vermont. We are an institution with national and international reach in the students and scholars we draw and in the impact of our research endeavors, but the educational experience we share with our undergraduates is intertwined with this Green Mountain landscape and its people.
This truth has been particularly vivid over the past several months. Your senior year had a memorable opening, did it not?
As the rains of Tropical Storm Irene pounded Vermont on August 28, we postponed the first day of classes and closed the university. Burlington was ultimately spared the brunt of the storm’s full force, but, as we all know, many communities in Vermont were less fortunate.
While the devastation of raging rivers was breathtakingly swift, the after effects have been felt for months, and will be with us for years perhaps. Irene has tested the values of Vermont and it has done the same for the state’s university. Indeed, it is the test of such times that brings our values to the fore.
Throughout Vermont, neighbor has helped neighbor as the many whose homes, businesses, and farms were ravaged begin to put their lives back together. And at UVM, the response has been just as heartening—from the student and alumnus who had put together a website to coordinate volunteers just hours after Irene cleared Vermont’s borders to the teams of UVM varsity athletes helping with clean-up along the White River to the countless hours our Extension faculty and staff have given in support of the myriad issues faced by Vermont farmers. I could go on and on… In all of my years here, I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud to be part of the University of Vermont.
It is the values of this place that has driven and continues to drive those efforts—bedrock Vermont values of independence and self-reliance that stand on equal footing with compassion and caring, the belief in putting others before self. These are core values of this place, this state, and this university.
As we reflect on values and service, it is an apt moment to recognize those who have served and will serve our nation. I speak of our ROTC graduates, our graduates who have balanced their education with duty in the Vermont Army National Guard, and all veterans and active duty members of the United States military who are with us today. Please stand and be recognized with a round of applause.
But I suspect that for many of you the known of the past year is, at this moment, of less concern than the unknown of the months and years ahead.
Certainly there is no shortage of this mysterious “unknown” in the lives of any college graduate… at any time… in any place. But, without doubt, these are particularly challenging economic times. Graduates and their families have every reason to be concerned about the path that lies ahead as you leave this campus with degree in hand.
Some of you know what’s next already with a job lined up, a promising internship, graduate school. But many of you don’t. To consider the extreme approaches to such uncertainty—you could spend your every waking hour stressing about where the perfect job might be and how you will find it. Or, alternatively, you could adopt the Swahili proverb “Hakuna Matata” or “no worries” attitude, made famous by a warthog in the Lion King!
Actually I don’t recommend either course of action. Don’t stress out and don’t assume that opportunity will just come to you either. Instead be active, engaged, exploit your connections, attend alum events, use what you have learned, and trust your instincts and your inner voice.
It’s rare for the person who has stepped out of college—in this era or any —into an ideal job track in the profession of their dreams. You find your way by passing through the open doors, learning from the closed ones, and, when the time is right, wedging your foot into a threshold that just might lead where you want to be. You will find stories of such paths by the hundreds among those of us gathered today. All of us like all of you, one day faced the unknown nervously. But like you, we had confidence in our education, belief in our talent, trust in our path, and we embraced the exhilarating possibilities.
So returning to my theme it is my hope that the values of the University of Vermont have become a part of you during your time here as a student, and that you will carry them with you to New York and Chicago and Los Angeles; to Berlin and New Delhi and Shanghai; to Winooski and Grafton and Derby Line… down all of the roads to all of the places where good work and lives well lived will take you.
Last modified June 08 2012 02:42 PM