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Convocation Kicks Off 216th Year

By Thomas Weaver Article published September 5, 2006

The keen of bagpipes and a long procession of faculty in academic regalia on University Place heralded Convocation 2006, an annual rite of the academic year’s opening at UVM and at colleges and universities across the country. The event took place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, and drew faculty, staff, and students to Ira Allen Chapel.

In a convocation speech that marked his first official address to the UVM community, Provost John Hughes urged new students to recognize the responsibility that comes with being among the one one-hundreth of one percent of the world’s population privileged to attend an institution of higher education in the United States.

"So what will you do with this remarkable privilege that puts you in the 99.99th percentile in the world?" Hughes said. "Regrettably, my generation leaves you many profound problems to address; we tried, oh how we tried, and hopefully we made progress, but ultimately we were not successful. As you begin your time at the University of Vermont I here charge you to use your privilege to solve those problems."

Hughes drew parallels between the issues that faced the nation and the world when, as a first-year student in 1970, he listened to his first college convocation speech. "In 1970 we were involved in an increasingly controversial war, concern for the environment was growing, gas prices were rising, and the nation was increasingly concerned with racial equality. Although we are 36 years apart, the issues facing you are not dissimilar from those we faced in 1970."

Citing examples across many fields of study, Hughes more deeply detailed the issues that students will face and encouraged them to find solutions to the persistent challenges that linger, despite Hughes’ own generation’s best attempts to solve them. And he closed his speech with a personal invitation to the new students who share his "first-year" status. "I ask that as you see me walking around campus you take the time to introduce yourself and tell me some of your aspirations, and tell me what you hope to accomplish as part of the 99.99th percentile. We will have to keep walking as we talk, as we all are privileged to have important places to go."

John Bramley, acting president of the university, delivered opening remarks prior to Hughes’ address. The former provost, who stepped in as acting president this summer during President Daniel Mark Fogel’s medical leave, noted that his being on stage at convocation was something he did not expect. He went on to describe the many mysteries and surprises that are often "some of the greatest rewards of higher education."

"A university is a community of scientists, scholars, artists, students dedicated to the study and creation of knowledge," Bramley said. "That pursuit requires the courage to face the unknown and the unexpected every time we step into the classroom, the studio, or the lab. To say we’re well-versed in and quite comfortable with the unknown is an understatement. Quite simply, meeting the unexpected, facing it with the best our hearts and minds can offer, and moving forward is what we do."