December Graduates' Recognition Celebration
December Graduates' Recognition Celebration
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Opening Remarks: Daniel Mark Fogel, President
Governor Douglas and Mrs. Douglas—it’s an honor to have you with us—Faculty Senate President Robyn Warhol-Down, Chairman Lisman, trustees of the University, Provost Hughes, vice presidents, deans, faculty, and staff, families and friends of our students who have completed their degree requirements this past summer and fall, and above all those students themselves whose accomplishments we are celebrating here today, we have gathered on the verge of what promises to be a historic winter storm, on a morning that we fervently hope is as auspicious for the future success, happiness, and health of every one of our graduates as it looks to be for those Meccas of the Green Mountains Bolton, Trapp, Stowe, and Smuggs—welcome and congratulations, with special plaudits for our guests who have come from afar in the face of all of the deterrent force of the impending blizzard! Graduates, we are thrilled that you have finished your degree requirements, and while you are enthusiastically invited to join us in May when your degrees will be formally conferred (and when former UVM faculty member Julia Alvarez, an acclaimed novelist and poet, will be our Commencement speaker—and yes, you were the first to hear that, here), we hope that you find this morning’s celebration to be a memorable and satisfying way of marking your substantive accomplishments.
This is, for all of us, a joyous occasion–the moment when we recognize the achievements of our wonderful students. It’s also a moment when we can acknowledge that behind every student there stand some very special people, often unacknowledged, who have supported the graduates with investments of hope, love, concern, and, yes, tuition dollars and care packages. Would the parents and guardians of today’s December graduates please stand and be recognized with a round of applause? And now the grand-parents and great-grandparents? And now, husbands and wives of the graduates, with their children? And to all of you, on behalf of my colleagues on the faculty and staff, let me say thanks for entrusting your students to us, and for the support you have given them and the University of Vermont.
December graduates, you have completed your degrees at an extraordinary institution. Your University of the Green Mountains is steeped in the traditions and values of Vermont: practicality, environmental stewardship, civic duty, fairness, social justice, and respect for individuality. It is deep within our ethos to make a difference on the things that matter—from monitoring the impact of acid rain to battling drug addiction, from developing sustainable farming practices to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. The future lies bright before UVM, and you will write the next chapters in the annals of achievement that distinguish graduates of this institution. But we should always be mindful of the rich history that has produced the ethos and values of UVM.
For we are gathered here in a historic place. Just a few years after the legislature of the newly formed State of Vermont chartered the University of Vermont, in 1791, out first president, Daniel Clark Sanders, took axe in hand and cleared the wilderness that is now the College Green outside the doors of this chapel. It was just down the College Row in the Old Mill, where George Washington’s comrade in arms, the Marquis de Lafayette, laid the cornerstone, that our fifth president, James Marsh, laid out with the faculty a revolution in higher education, for it was here, under Marsh’s leadership, that the modern system of academic majors and electives was invented, only to spread from Vermont to colleges and universities across the nation and around the world. Here, we saw the first women and the first African-Americans admitted to the nation’s most venerable honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, not long after Vermont’s U.S. Senator Justin Morrill authored, in the darkest days of the Civil War, the Land Grant Act that established higher education in America as a public good. Here, just outside the north side of Ira Allen Chapel, lies John Dewey, one of America’s greatest philosophers and progressive thinkers, an 1879 graduate of UVM. Your University’s place in the pantheon of American intellectual history was memorialized in Louis Menand’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book of 2001, The Metaphysical Club, in which a key chapter, titled “Burlington,” was devoted to James Marsh and, even more so, to John Dewey and his role as one of four thinkers who Menand believes decisively moved American thought into the modern world.
But the glory of UVM is by no means a thing of the past. In recent times, The University of Vermont has sent forth as its graduates Pulitzer-prize winning novelists, academy-award winning writers and producers, and two individuals who went, just two years apart, to Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Jody Williams in 1997 for leading the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and John McGill in 1999 as president of Doctors Without Borders when that organization received the award. I doubt that there is any other University that can point to two Peace Prize recipients, let alone in such a short span of time.
The UVM tradition thus provides you with great examples that we hope will guide you on the way, just as we hope that the teaching and inspiration of our distinguished faculty will guide you. In that vein, I would surely fall short of your expectations for sententious wisdom on an occasion such as this if I did not offer you a few presidential prescriptions, but to keep it short I won’t give you a David Letterman list of ten, but just three.
My exhortations to you are tied to the distinctive signatures of a UVM education:
- The first signature is liberal education, our ideal of the well-rounded
student, not blinkered by the narrow perspectives of a single discipline or
methodology but able to integrate different modes of knowing to gain the grasp
of complexity without which the great challenges facing the world will utterly
baffle and defeat us: please do not accept simplistic understandings of complex
phenomena or succumb to formulaic answers to subtle and intricate problems.
- The second signature is health, indispensable to us as individuals and to
our communities and to humanity at large, instructing us that we must collectively
address the scourges of the planet, among which we can count, for example,
hunger and early mortality that still stalk vast regions of the world, the
epidemic of AIDS, the threat of an avian flu pandemic, and the social pathologies
of child labor in many lands, rampant addiction to drugs and alcohol, sexual
slavery, and the global plague of violence, including the scourge of male
violence against women—I enjoin you to cherish your own health and to
support every feasible measure for advancing the physical and social well-being
- The third signature is the environment, and it can easily be addressed in language apposite for the first two signatures of UVM, for the complex systems that link a factory in Szechuan to the effects of global warming in New Orleans and Spitsbergen and Burlington do not admit of easy answers. Such phenomena yield to understanding only through the lenses provided by many disciplines. And so I urge you to resist easy answers that evade a deep understanding of the complexity of our environmental challenges, for only through authentic understanding that does not do violence to the phenomena by oversimplifying things will we have a chance of guaranteeing the long-term health of the planet and of its inhabitants, vegetable and animal, flesh, fish, and fowl.
I would like, for a few minutes, to shift gears, moving from the large, abstract, and general to the particular, simply to share with you two or three illustrative and more personal vignettes of what it means to one faculty member, your president, to have the privilege of working with the wonderful students at UVM. I’ll begin with an encounter earlier this week as I entered a dining room in New York City to order breakfast. A tall, distinguished looking gentleman, a fellow diner, approached and introduced himself: “You’re the President at UVM, Dan Fogel, right?” he asked. “You’re doing a fantastic job,” he said, shaking my hand, and please understand that I accepted this accolade on behalf of all of my colleagues here, because I knew it was in fact for all of them, as his next words confirmed. “My daughter Abbey is a sophomore at UVM. She was a recruited athlete in soccer at several D3 schools, but when she saw Burlington she surprised us by saying UVM was where she belonged. We never thought of her as an intellectual, but she has blossomed at UVM. She had a fantastic seminar in the Integrated Humanities Program with Professor Sugarman. We are very satisfied parents. Abbey is finishing her best semester in school…and I am not just talking about grades as her final ones are not posted. She loves her classes and the professors have inspired and challenged her. Her mother and I have seen a real leap in her confidence, maturity and the ability to juggle a busy university calendar. Her experience at UVM has brought out the best and we look forward to seeing how she contributes to the UVM community and society in general. Thank you.” And I ask my colleagues here, could there be better music to our ears?—not to mention what this parent also told me, that he and his wife had just made a $2,500 gift to the UVM Parent’s Fund.
Here is another story, in a different key. All of us were deeply shaken and saddened, not to say angered, last year when one of our students met a fate that is happily of the utmost rarity here in Vermont—and I am speaking, of course, of the murder of Michelle Gardner Quinn. As those of us who had not known her personally came to find out in the wake of that tragedy, Michelle was a stellar example of what makes students at UVM so wonderful—a warm, generous, passionately idealistic human being, beloved by family and an ever-widening circle of friends. Again, I have been extraordinarily moved by another parental affirmation of UVM’s value, this time from Diane and John-Charles Gardner-Quinn, who wrote last month to me and my wife Rachel after the environmental scholarship fund established in Michelle’s memory reached endowment status. “We are thankful and appreciative,” they wrote, “for all the support and care the university . . . has shown our family. Michelle has always been the light and love of our life, but now we share her bright spirit with so many. . . UVM was unquestionably the right place for Michelle to mature and grow in her dedication to the environment and climate protection.” To have that affirmation from parents who suffered such a loss deepens for me as president of the University the resonance of all that we will continue to cherish in memorializing Michelle.
Through the grace and generosity of colleagues in the English Department, I have been able, despite an immensely complicated calendar, to continue teaching in shared classes, refreshing my love of literature and of the experience that lies at the heart of University life, the interaction between students and faculty. This fall I was lucky enough to be able to team-teach with Professor Warhol-Down—thank you, Robyn—a course on narrative theory to a marvelously capable, engaged, and really talented class—and in all of those attributes the students we taught this semester represented qualities I have found in the vast majority of the students with whom I’ve worked at UVM. Monday night, Robyn and her husband Rich joined me and Rachel at our home in Colchester, and together we hosted fifteen of the sixteen students in the class who were able to join us for an informal dinner. Toward the end of the evening, I was delighted to discover that one of the students shared my passion for scholarship on the Beatles, that he owned every single Beatles album in the original vinyl LPs, and that he knew the detailed, minute, track-by-track history of each recording session. So I passed on to him, before he left, a long, scholarly article, circa 1988, from the Journal of Popular Culture, a learned treatise laying out all the evidence on which Beatle actually wrote which songs. This Wednesday, he emailed me with a number of really arcane citations, an offer to burn a CD of a rare Japanese version of Abbey Road, on which, he says, “the bass and drums are far clearer than any other release and there are other instrumentations I had never heard before I obtained this release,” and the following closing: “Please feel free to send me any more Beatles articles . . . I've been making my way through the article you gave me Monday and it is truly unbelievable. Have a nice break!” So we now share passions for Henry James, James Joyce, Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and the Beatles to boot—how good is that, and what fun!
And if you were to ask me, What is UVM?, I would say first of all that it is that kind of close, exhilarating and fun interaction between students and faculty of which Abbey’s father spoke, which underlies the Gardner-Quinn’s affirmation that this was the right place for Michelle to mature and grow, and which inspires me to keep making space in my life for interactions with students like the ones with whom Robyn and I had such a rewarding experience this semester. But each of our graduates, I am sure, has a dozen different ways of characterizing UVM. UVM is
- Going on trek in the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, or on Lake Champlain, and making friends you will keep forever.
- Carrying a dorm fridge up four flights in Harris-Millis
- Settling down to read, cruise the net, or brainstorm a group project with classmates in Bailey-Howe and, these days more and more, in the Davis Center
- Intramural sports and club sports from broom ball to ultimate Frisbee, sailing, crew, men’s and women’s rugby (women’s rugby!), and club football (football!)
- Finding yourself riveted in a lecture so good you ignore your desperate sleep shortfall—or not
- Nights on Loomis and Buell Street, on the Church Street Marketplace, on the lake, in the mountains
- Thrilling to UVM’s victory over mighty Syracuse two and a half years ago in the NCAA basketball tournament
- The naked bike ride in nineteen degree weather on bicycle, foot, or skate-board
- The Lawrence Debate Society, Boulder, TOWER, the Ambassadors, the Chatty Cats, the Advocats, the Outing Club, SGA, Greek Life, UVM Rescue, the Juggling Club, the Cynic, WRUV, UVM TV, the Top Cats, the Hit Paws, the Cat’s Meow, the Jazz Band, and more than 130 other student clubs
- Animal Science, Elementary Education, Computer Science, Psychology, Nursing, Political Science, Natural Resources, Public Communications, English, Biology, Business Administration, Physics, Social Work, Engineering, and scores of other majors
- Music and drama in many venues, from the Flynn to Royall Tyler, and from Higher Ground to Nectar’s
- Moving into your first apartment
- Sunsets over Lake Champlain from the Williams Hall fire escape
Everyone’s list will be different, but these are a few of our favorite UVM things. And now, amid the joy of today’s celebrations, amid the heartfelt congratulations with which we commend you for all you have achieved as graduates of UVM, with every good wish that we offer our graduates we express also our hope that you will leave your own children a world with brighter prospects than the world that my generation is bequeathing to you and that, looking back, you will say that the foundations of much of the good that you will do in your lives and work lay here in Burlington, here at UVM, the University of the Green Mountains. Looking back on the foundations of success and friendship that you built here at UVM from the vantage point of what we hope will be pinnacles of achievement and satisfaction, we hope, too, that you will be generous in supporting UVM and the generations of students and faculty who will follow you at this marvelous University. But that is for the future. Today the world lies all before you, rich with possibility. Perhaps, therefore, this is the moment to remind you of some wonderful lines by Emily Dickinson:
I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--
Of Visitors--the fairest--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise.
And now, to close the occasion, once again please welcome our Faculty Senate President, the Richard and Pamela Ader Green and Gold Professor of English Robyn Warhol-Down.
Last modified February 07 2008 03:25 PM