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May 2008 Honors College Scholar Commencement Ceremony - "Ripeness is All"
"Ripeness is all," President Dan Fogel said, quoting Edgar from Shakespeare's King Lear, in his commencement speech to the Honors College first graduating class, sitting in front of him in their black, bright green banner draped robes in Ira Allen Chapel on May 17th. Speaking on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon to the many family members and friends who had assembled there to commemorate this historic occasion, President Fogel recalled the time he first mentioned the idea for an Honors College at UVM. "I was at the Houston airport to be interviewed for this job," he said, "And when I said UVM needs an Honors College, I was told that there had been talk of one for over 25 years. So there was a readiness for one when I came to UVM, and we celebrate the 'trailblazers' sitting in front of us today who have contributed greatly in transforming that readiness into reality."
Fogel went on to provide a context for the day's historic event with references to other UVM 'trailblazers,' who 'blazed' a trail down through the years, men and women, through who's efforts, determination, will, and vision, established the intellectual fabric and tradition of the University. Fogel made special mention of James Marsh, the American Philosopher and Transcendentalist, whose tenure as UVM's fifth President, serving between 1828 and 1833, marked the beginning point of UVM's intellectual tradition, whose "legacy we see continuing today with the graduation of the Honors College class of 2008."
Citing other 'trailblazers,' from Marsh's time to the present, he concluded with some words of Raul Hilburg, Professor Emeritus at the University, and distinguished Historian and Holocaust scholar, who died in 2007. "Anyone who ever had the honor to take one of Prof. Hilburg’s classes," President Fogel said, "will always remember what he would say to his students: 'Know what you are looking at, study, and never take anything at face value.'" With these words addressed to the graduates, family and friends, President Fogel praised Bob Taylor for taking up the leadership torch at the college's inception five years ago, and passing it on now to Dean Abu Rizvi to carry it forth.
Less than an hour before President Fogel's remarks, the Honors College graduates were lining up in the basement of Ira Allen Chapel. Dressed in their caps and gowns, they stood quietly in the warmth of the confined hallways and close spaces, talking in groups as they waited for Patty Redmond to signal for them to ascend to their places of honor above. In a small classroom off the hallway where the students gathered, members of the Administration waited to lead the students into the Chapel and take their place on stage. Seated around an empty desk in the middle of the room were Provost, John Hughes, Dean of the Honors College, Abu Rizvi, founding Dean of the Honors College, Bob Taylor, Interim Associate Dean of the Honors College, Kelvin Chu, and President Dan Fogel, who dressed in his scarlet red academic robe warmly greeted everyone when he came in shortly before the ceremony was to begin. Patty Redmond roamed the basement hallway outside the room, cell phone glued to her ear, serving as communication hub, waiting with Tina Griffis, line captain and leader of the pack extraordinaire, for the signal to bring the students and dais guests around to the front of the Chapel were they would line up before marching inside.
Upstairs, several hundred family members and friends crowded into every available seat, waiting expectantly for their 'graduate' to enter. Hushed murmurs pervaded the room, the sounds of the many voices absorbed by the high arched ceiling of the Chapel, where suspended from the highest point dangled a magnificent many lighted chandelier the sweep of its light casting a soft glow over those below. In front of the stage, row upon row of empty white chairs stood ready for the graduates to take when they marched in.
On cue, at 3:30 sharp, the Chapel organist began to play a ceremonial march as the students lined up outside marched in led by President Fogel, Provost Hughes, Deans Rizvi and Taylor, and Associate Dean Chu. Carrying the College banner was Abby Goode, who along with Laura Balzer, would be two students sharing the honor of sitting on stage with the other guests. Parents and friends stood with cameras poised, ready to fix the moment for all time, craning their necks to get a glimpse of their child. As the last students entered the Chapel and the first were already at their seats, the hum of anticipation that had filled the room just moments before changed subtlety to one of pride and delight clearly written across the faces of those in the audience.
All remained standing until dais guests took their places, when Dean Rizvi walked to the podium and asked everyone to be seated. Then welcoming all present to the ceremony, he introduced the guests on the stage, signaling out for special recognition Laura Balzer and Abby Good, both of whom Dean Rizvi proudly announced, to enthusiastic applause, as having achieved academic distinction with perfect 4.0 grade averages over their four year academic careers. "These two students," he said, "represent the fine work of all the scholars here today."
"It is also a day of farewells and new beginnings," Dean Rizvi said. Asking Professor Chu to stand, he announced he would be stepping down as Interim Associate Dean, and returning to the Physics Department to continue his research and teaching, praising his efforts in mentoring students from across the University in applying for and securing competitive national scholarships and fellowships. Bidding him farewell, he introduced Lisa Schnell, Associate Professor of English, who would be taking over as Interim Associate Dean replacing Kelvin.
Dean Rizvi then introduced Provost Hughes who praised the graduates, saying that today we "celebrate the first class of Honors College Scholars," comparing them to our earliest pioneers who broke new ground and lead the way for those who follow, calling them 'pioneers every one of you.' Provost Hughes also praised President Fogel in forging ahead with his vision for the Honors College, before introducing him to the audience.
At the conclusion of President Fogel's speech, the time had come for the presentation of special Honors College medallions to the students in recognition of their graduating as University Scholars. As Patty Redmond read the name of each graduate, each received a medallion and walked across the stage to be congratulated by Dean Rizvi and former Dean Taylor. When the last graduate had returned to his seat, Dean Rizvi called on Bob Taylor to give a final reflection on the day. Taking the podium, Bob said that when he was first asked to become the Dean of the new Honors College, his response was to write a "detailed memo explaining why an honors college would not work at the University of Vermont, why it would be a mistake to pursue this possibility, and why it was in general a very bad idea." Of course, Dean Taylor fortunately did not follow his own advice, and now looking down onto the smiling faces of the students he had shepherded through their years at UVM, he said, to every one, "Of course, I was not only wrong; I was spectacularly wrong. All of you students we honor here today are proof of this."
The ceremony concluded, graduates gathered in front of Ira Allen Chapel for a group picture, and then all made their way to the Davis center for a reception and chance to share food and drink with family, friends, and classmates, bringing happily to a close the day's historic event.
Last modified June 17 2008 02:59 PM