University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Community Celebrates Convocation

Release Date: 09-02-2005

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

Drawing on the inspirational words of her immigrant mother, The Honorable Madeleine M. Kunin told the largest incoming class in the 214-year history of the university on Sept. 1 at Convocation that she still believes anything is possible in America as long as students aren’t afraid to take chances in pursuit of their dreams.

“My mother gave us a great gift: the ability to believe that dreams can come true in America,” said Kunin, former governor of Vermont and U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, while addressing the class of 2009 and a large contingent of faculty at Ira Allen Chapel. “What’s possible for me is possible for you, but even more so… go beyond what you know. Try new things. Talk to people you normally wouldn’t. Begin to think about how you’d like to spend the rest of your life.”

In keeping with Convocation’s theme, “the active landscape,” Gov. Jim Douglas joined Kunin, a distinguished visiting professor, in urging students to get involved in as many aspects of college life as possible. He challenged students to be “involved and dynamic citizens” as members of a university that has “raised its collective metabolism” to unprecedented levels while trying to in fulfill its 10-year vision. Douglas also announced that the State of Vermont plans to help Gulf Coast residents affected by Hurricane Katrina.

President Daniel Fogel spoke of the importance of preparing students to help alleviate the anguish brought on by tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, and announced that the university is in the process of exploring ways to help those suffering from the disaster. The university has accepted two displaced Tulane students and is exploring ways to help students and faculty at Dillard and Xavier Universities until their campuses re-open. Fogel said he spoke recently about this issue with Michael Lomax, 2004 UVM honorary degree recipient, former president of Dillard, and current president of the United Negro College Fund, who will be facilitating UVM’s outreach proposals to those institutions.

During an update of the progress of the university’s 10-year vision, Fogel signed a new green building policy, which states that new buildings, at a minimum, be equivalent to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The policy also recommends that the university purchase Vermont goods and services whenever “possible and financially feasible.”

Fogel also drew attention to a potential six-credit diversity requirement currently under review by the Faculty Senate and deans that comes on the heels of a policy adopted in May protecting students and employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. “It is a cornerstone of the values we call on all members of our community to embrace as the UVM family strengthens its commitment to UVM’s Common Ground of respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility.”

Other achievements highlighted by Fogel included the university’s recent mention by Newsweek Kaplan College Guide as one of the nation’s top 25 “hottest schools” for “creating a buzz” and “preparing students well for a complex world,” and UVM’s No. 2 ranking behind only Harvard in a recent Cornell Study that asked representatives from 35 leading institutions, “To what institutions do you look for leadership in the environmental field.”

“Together let us embrace with joy and a high sense of urgency the challenges that lie before us as the most engaged of all public universities, as a community that chooses with passion and intelligence to make a difference in the world,” he said. “To each and every member of this community, we offer best wishes for a stimulating, productive, and deeply rewarding academic year.

Other speakers included Provost John Bramley, Carl Lisman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Justin M. Joffe, professor of psychology, SGA president Sarah Poirier, and senior Claire Ankuda, whose emotion-filled speech about her experience while at UVM and around the world drew a standing ovation.

Arriving at UVM three years ago, Ankuda quickly immersed herself in two Medical School projects that led to other endeavors, including working with pregnant teenagers at the Lund Center for Pregnant and Parenting Young Women; studying sleep and ADHD and children; listening to stories of AIDS patients while stationed at hospitals in China; and witnessing the birth of a twin boy in the remote region of Hubei Province whose parents were too poor to pay for the medical care that may have saved his life.

“This is my classroom,” Ankunda said. “Since I've come here, I've had the amazing opportunity to do work that breaks my heart, that exudes hope, that consumes me. I wish that I could credit this University for all of this, for the drive that pushes me through late nights and early mornings. But really, the opportunities and encouragement I've encountered here have merely let a wider world and a greater humanity be my professor. So this fall, while buying books and tacking photographs to my bulletin board, I feel especially grateful to be a student, I feel especially indebted for these lessons, for my teachers, as young or as far away as they may be.”