University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Sends Off Largest Class at Sun-Filled Ceremony

Release Date: 05-23-2010

Author: Jon C. Reidel
Phone: 802/656-8206 Fax: (802) 656-3203

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See more photos from the day. (Photo: Sally McCay)

At a sun-splashed commencement ceremony on the University Green before a crowd of more than 10,000, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told the largest and most diverse graduating class in the history of the University of Vermont that what the world needs most is for them to make caring for others a personal devotion on a level that goes well beyond the traditional definition of volunteerism.

"Make no mistake about it — one of life's greatest gifts is the privilege of sharing one's own blessings with others," said Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam War hero and tireless advocate for veterans. "And I'm talking about more than just 'random acts of kindness' here. Random acts of kindness are important, but they are not enough — the world does not thrive this way. What it most needs are unselfish people, who are regularly, habitually, and deliberately kind; people who make caring for others a personal devotion, a part of their everyday lives. That's what's really needed — people who are willing to serve the needs of others."

Shinseki, who was given an honorary degree from President Daniel Mark Fogel at the 206th commencement ceremony, gave his keynote address to approximately 3,034 graduates, including 2,411 bachelor's, 380 master's, 105 doctoral, and 106 M.D. degree recipients, in addition to 29 post-baccalaureate certificates. The class comprised students from 42 states, including 1,250 from Vermont, and 69 international students from 20 countries. The graduating class included approximately 221 African, Latino/a, Asian and Native American (ALANA) and bi/multi-racial students.

"During your years on this campus you have become woven into the fabric of this institution and enriched us all," said Fogel, in remarks preceding Shinseki's. "It is now your time to build the life you've imagined, to go forth as alumni, to take the knowledge and experience you've gained at the University of Vermont into the world. Best wishes and congratulations."

To illustrate his point about the importance of serving others, Shinseki told a story about a U.S. Marine named Jerry Murphy who received the Medal of Honor — the nation's highest award for valor — for risking his life during a battle in the Korean War by carrying wounded soldiers to safety on his shoulders. Murphy, who went back after the battle to recover more dead Marines despite being wounded twice, went on to serve 23 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a counselor and director of veteran services in New Mexico, followed by eight more years as a volunteer at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center.

"Jerry Murphy died in 2007 and insisted on being buried, not in his dress blue uniform, but in his VA volunteer's jacket," said Shinseki. "Coming from a Marine Medal of Honor recipient, that says volumes about the fulfillment that comes with serving others. Jerry Murphy was first and last a volunteer, and it was his selflessness, his devotion to the well-being of fellow Marines, that led to his heroism in Korea. And he didn't stop serving others and being a hero when he left that hilltop — he lived the rest of his life that way.

"He wasn't just randomly kind. The same shared sense of humanity that drove him up that hill time and again in search of fellow Marines also motivated his years of service to veterans. With your new degree, there are many things you will be able to do for yourselves. There are also many things you will able to do for others. Find purpose to your lives beyond simply making a living. Find something that gets you up in the morning and makes it difficult to turn in each night. If it's serving others — full-time or part-time, public service or volunteering — I guarantee, you won't regret it, and this country and the world will be a much better place."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who nominated Shinseki as commencement speaker, told students that if their education means anything to them they will go out and use their "ideology, energy and intellect to make this country the great country we know it will be."

Gov. James H. Douglas told graduates that they will play a vital role in the future success of the State of Vermont as part of the work force and hopefully as residents willing to help their neighbors. "You'll see an opportunity to do good without payment, reward or acknowledgment, because it's the right thing to do," he said.

In addition to Shinseki, the university conferred honorary degrees on three other individuals who have had a positive impact on the state, university and nation: Judith Buechner of Rupert, Vt. a farmer, environmentalist, ecological entrepreneur and advocate for the public interest known for her environmental stewardship and leadership in the artisan cheese movement; Susan Brody Hasazi, professor in the College of Education and Social Services since 1976, an internationally known scholar in the field of special education and trailblazing advocate for students with disabilities and their families; and Raymond C. Pecor, Jr., a central figure in fostering economic development in his home state as a key player in the economic revitalization of Winooski and as owner of the Lake Champlain Transportation Company and the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Nine students were honored with five university awards. Dana Gulley won the Mary Jean Simpson Award, honoring the senior woman who exhibits the highest qualities of leadership, academic competence and character; Jared Alvord won the F.T. Kidder Medal, honoring the senior man ranking first in character, leadership and scholarship; James "Jay" Taylor and Chrissaida Crawford 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; Katherine Ash, Jem Hughes and James Candon won the Keith M. Miser Leadership Award, recognizing outstanding service to the university; and Ariel Commins and Davin Sokup 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.

During the ceremony, the UVM Alumni Association presented the annual George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award for excellence in teaching to Robert Manning, professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, where he teaches the history, philosophy and management of parks, wilderness and related areas. Manning also helped lead development of the Rubenstein's innovative integrated core curriculum, and designed NR 2, Nature and Culture, an introductory course, which he taught to thousands of UVM first-year students.

Read Shinseki's speech on the Department of Veteran's Affairs website.

Visit the Commencement 2010 website to read more speeches from the day.