Alvarez Encourages '08 Grads to 'Find Their True Pattern'
Release Date: 05-18-2008
Celebrated novelist, poet and writer-in-residence at Middlebury College Julia Alvarez began her address to the Class of 2008 at UVM commencement activities on May 18 with a prayer. The prayer — borrowed from Mayan weavers — is one she recites every day of her writing life: "Grant me the intelligence and patience to find the true pattern."
In a speech punctuated by the poetry of Robert Frost, Czeslaw Milosz and Seamus Heaney, delivered to a capacity crowd in the Athletic Complex Multipurpose Facility, Alvarez shared stories from her early childhood in the Dominican Republic and from her relationship with her immigrant father, each revealing how she had struggled to find the true pattern of her own life.
Just as weaving and writing require the artist to "find the true pattern," so does life require it of each of us, she said to the graduates. "There isn't a standard outside pattern or a list of rules or a calendar with deadlines for what you are setting out to do today," the author told the graduating seniors. Instead, she encouraged each student to recite the simple prayer every day for the next year to help uncover their true life path.
"Big words like career, profession, they're misleading," she added. "Pay attention to what is already going on in your life. When are you connecting deeply with your joy and passion? What do you lose yourself doing? When are you having the most fun?"
Most important, the author concluded, is how you use what you learn about yourself. "We find our true pattern, we connect with our richness and our power, in order to give back, to serve our human family."
In service to the community, the world
Service to the community and to the world was a theme in comments made during Sunday's ceremony. Leaders of the Faculty Senate, the Board of Trustees, the Student Government Association, the Alumni Association, Staff Council, and UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel each shared with graduates the hope and confidence that the Class of 2008, which includes the first graduating class of the recently established Honors College, will put their education to use in service to others.
"You have become a part of the fabric and history of this university," Fogel said. "It is now your time to build the life you have imagined. To go out into the world and make it a better place."
Fogel conferred degrees on an estimated 2,596 graduates, including 2,069 bachelor's, 360 master's, 85 doctoral, and 82 M.D. degree recipients, in addition to 20 post-baccalaureate certificates. Among degree recipients were students from 46 states — including 1,095 Vermonters — and 18 countries. The graduating class included 167 ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian and Native American) and bi/multi-racial students.
Receiving honorary degrees this year along with Alvarez were Daniel Burack, a class of 1955 alumus, and his wife, Carole Burack, tireless volunteers and philanthropists who established the Dan and Carole Burack President's Distinguished Lecture Series, as well as a scholarship fund for students in teacher education; Eric Lipton, a class of 1987 alumnus, The New York Times Washington Bureau reporter, and 1992 winner of a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for stories co-written about the flaw in the Hubble telescope; Sister Janice E. Ryan, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and former president of Trinity College who has worked on projects to ban land mines and eliminate the death penalty, lobbied for mainstreaming special needs children, and served as Vermont's deputy commissioner of corrections; Gladys Clark Severance and Malcolm Severance, class of 1949 alumni and active members of the UVM community, where Malcolm served as professor, department chair, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and a two-term trustee, and the greater Burlington community, where Gladys taught junior high and high school math, co-founded a Meals-on-Wheels program, initiated Colchester's Girl Scout program, and managed Malcolm's four successful campaigns for the Vermont legislature.
Five students were honored with university awards. Kesha K. Ram won the Mary Jean Simpson Award, honoring the senior woman who exhibits the highest qualities of leadership, academic competence and character; Gregory M. Rheault won the F.T. Kidder Medal, honoring the senior man ranking first in character, leadership and scholarship; Channel Hamilton and DaVaughn M. Vincent-Bryan won the Class of 1967 Award, presented to seniors who best exhibit leadership, academic competence and character, and who have earned the respect of faculty and fellow students; Rachel Gilbert Hopkins and Andrew Kehl won the Keith M. Miser Leadership Award, recognizing outstanding service to the university; and Joseph Thomas and Ashley Michelle Fowler won the Elmer Nicholson Achievement Prize, recognizing the greatness of the students' UVM experiences and the expectation that they will make a major contributions in their fields of interest.
The UVM Alumni Association honored Lynne Bond, professor of psychology, with the George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award. Upon accepting the award, Bond shared with graduates her hope that they live "a lifetime full of wonder," that they "take the time to wonder what could be and act."
The ceremony concluded with remarks by John Gennari, associate professor of English and director of ALANA U.S. Ethnic Studies, on the importance of diversity in achieving excellence. Using the Red Sox's notorious history as a model for the necessity of a diverse organization, Gennari spoke about UVM's commitment to promoting diversity as part of its quest for academic excellence.
Although incorrect in the end — Burlington weather was warm and sunny commencement day — a forecast of inclement weather led to a decision earlier in the week to move the ceremony indoors.