UVM Celebrates 200th Commencement
Release Date: 05-23-2004
As the chimes of Ira Allen Chapel’s Memorial Carillon sounded through a light mist, the pomp and color of commencement returned to the University of Vermont Green on Sunday morning. The university’s 200th graduating class, faculty and guests filled the central part of the Green across from the stage in front of Waterman Building. University officials estimated the crowd at 10,000, near-record attendance for the event.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet and University of Vermont President Daniel Mark Fogel both delivered commencement addresses. Fogel’s comments focused on the history and character of the university and celebrated the achievements of the Class of 2004. In a wide-ranging talk, often tinged with dark humor, Mamet explored the inevitable and frequently difficult process of change and the necessity of ritual.
Fogel opened his speech, which was accompanied by images of UVM past and present projected on three large video screens, by singling out several members of the Class of 2004 for their excellence in academics, community service, and leadership.
“Members of the Class of 2004, the values that you exemplify are thoroughly consistent with the values that have come to characterize this great university throughout its long history of educational leadership,” Fogel said. “Our university 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.”
Fogel’s speech touched upon “points of pride” in UVM history, including being the first university to admit women and African-Americans to the Phi Beta Kappa academic honorary society; the legacy of educational philosopher John Dewey, UVM Class of 1879; the work of faculty exemplified by Professor Emeritus Raul Hilberg, a renowned Holocaust scholar; and recent connections to the Nobel Peace Prize through alumni Jody Williams and Dr. John McGill.
Sharing the podium with Fogel was David Mamet, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his play “Glengarry Glen Ross.” His critically acclaimed screenplays include “The Verdict,” “The Untouchables,” and “Wag the Dog” (which earned both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for best screenplay). Mamet attended Goddard College and has lived part-time in Vermont for 40 years.
With a clipped, rapid-fire delivery much like his trademark dialogue, Mamet’s speech touched on tattooing and D-Day, a teenager selling magazines door to door and the courage of the Jews stepping into the Red Sea before its waters parted. The sometimes terrifying nature of change, its inevitability, and the role of ritual in passage, knit together the playwright/author’s talk.
“The steps from bondage to freedom must have ritual,” Mamet said. “A tattoo is a sign on the body that says, ‘I am not who I was.’” And he added that the “true meaning of tattooing is not pretty little pictures, but the pain of having them applied.” On the ritual of graduation, Mamet drew laughs from the graduates when he said, “It means, in effect, ‘Get out.’”
Mamet explored the courage transition requires, focusing on the paratroopers who leapt from airplanes on D-Day during World War II, the immigrants who boarded ships for an uncertain future in America, and the Israelites in the Biblical story of Exodus. The playwright encouraged the graduates to embrace the mysteries of life – “sometimes you look for it, sometimes it comes looking for you.” Mamet said, “Each time you refuse to change, you stagnate. We all die in the end, but there’s no reason to die in the middle.”
In addition to David Mamet, the university awarded honorary degrees to Florence Knoll Bassett, a pioneer of 20th century modern design; Edwin I. Colodny, former UVM interim president and former CEO of U.S. Airways; Charles W. Johnson, former Vermont State Naturalist; Michael L. Lomax, president of Dillard University and CEO-elect of the United Negro College Fund; Grace Paley, renowned author, activist and Vermont State Poet; and alumnus Stephen B. Rubenstein, who recently bestowed the largest gift in the university’s history to promote study of the environment.
During the ceremony, the Alumni Association presented the annual George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award for excellence in teaching to Frank Bryan, professor of political science.
Degrees were awarded to an estimated 1,700 undergraduates, 465 graduates, 90 medical students, and 29 fifth- and sixth-year certificate students. Students receiving degrees represent 46 states plus Washington, D.C., approximately 1,106 Vermonters and 41 international graduates from 17 countries.
Note: Though UVM’s first commencement was in 1804, this year’s event is the 200th since the university suspended operations for a year during the War of 1812, when the campus’s lone building was utilized as a barracks for federal troops.