President Fogel Sends Off First Class

Helping others, following your passion, and using your college degree to help create the future rather than inherit it, were the themes of UVM’s 199th Commencement ceremony May 18 at Centennial Field.

President Daniel Mark Fogel sent off his first class of graduates, which included 1,628 undergraduates, 352 graduate-level students and 94 medical degree candidates, since being named president last year. The class of 2003 was made up of students from 37 states, the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and 12 foreign countries. Of those, 948 were Vermonters.

Commencement speaker and acclaimed filmmaker and producer Jon Kilik ’78 received a standing ovation for his address telling the crowd of about 8,000 students, faculty, family members and friends that it was “better than the Oscars.”

Using his sister, a special education teacher in Rutland, as an example of someone he admires and to whom students could look as a role model, Kilik emphasized the importance of giving back to your community and living a meaningful life that focuses on helping others.

He referred to his sister, who used to attend summer camp in Vermont, as a “good camper” for the way she lives her life as a mother, wife, and teacher of special needs children.

“She has a life, a real life, not just a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house,” Kilik said. “She has a full life in which she can enjoy beautiful sunsets over the Green Mountains of Vermont. She keeps her side of the street clean and she knows how to live with other people and respect them. She is a good camper.”

Kilik, who took time to forgive his economics teacher for flunking him after he slept through an exam, used his first film as an example of the types of hardships students can expect to face following graduation.

A critic described his initial film offering as “perfect for coffee-sipping, beret-wearing losers,” adding that nothing could save the “pathetic waste of film.” Kilik, who went on to produce more than a dozen major motion pictures, including “Malcom X,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “Pleasantville,” encouraged students to follow their passion regardless of how many doors are shut in their face.

Kilik also credited Professor Emeritus Frank Manchel for introducing him to the world of film, and his father for telling him he could do anything he set his mind to. He also quoted Bruce Springsteen and Benjamin Franklin, emphasizing Franklin’s belief that on Judgment Day, “we will be evaluated not by what we have learned and what we have achieved, but by what we have done with what we have learned and with what we have achieved.”

“Whether your passion brings you to an elementary school in Rutland or a movie set in the Himalayas, be a good camper,” he concluded.

Kilik was awarded a doctor of humane letters. Marion Van Bingsbergen Pritchard, who is credited with saving more than 150 Jews during the Holocaust, was honored with a doctor of laws degree. She told students to get out and vote because it’s one of the most important things they could do in life.

Now in her 80s, Pritchard began her rescue work in 1942 when her boss asked her to hide a two-year-old Jewish boy who was targeted for the concentration camps. She later volunteered to hide a Jewish family and was forced to shoot a Dutch policeman, who was a Nazi informer, to protect the family that she would hide for the remainder of the summer.

“I thought it was very powerful,” Emily Toof, an elementary education major from Underhill, said of the ceremony. “It was powerful to hear Kilik share his own personal failures and how you have to overcome them to succeed.”

Professor Robert Lawson was presented with the George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty award, named after Dean Emeritus George V. Kidder ’22. Lawson has worked at UVM since 1966 and received dozens of letters of support from students who have been writing unsolicited nomination letters for more than a decade. Students cited Lawson’s ability to inspire and provoke student interest and enthusiasm, and his overall impact on their values, as the main reasons for their nomination of Lawson.

A number of senior and graduate awards were handed out, including the Mary Jean Simpson Award to Anna Helen Bramley. The award honors the senior woman who best exemplifies qualities of leadership, academic competence and character. The Fred T. Kidder Medal, awarded to the senior man ranking first in character, leadership and scholarship, was given to Simon Hall.

Emeritus Professor H. Lawrence McCrorey closed the ceremony by telling students to use their degrees to help others and to “reach out and provide service to the community.”

“Dare to care, so you might help create the future rather than inherit it,” McCrorey said.

Jon Kilik's speech.