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photo by Shayne Lynn '93,
photo below by Sally McCay


the 200th Commencement

A steady mist on a spring morning didn’t deter the University of Vermont from marking its 200th commencement in a big way. As the ceremony returned to the Green for the first time in four decades, President Daniel Mark Fogel’s words from the podium celebrated the graduates as they took their places in the University’s proud heritage.

“We are here to celebrate the graduation of the University of Vermont’s Class of 2004 at a milestone moment in our history — the two hundredth year in which this proud institution has sent graduates into the world.

UVM’s Class of 1804 — Charles Adams, Wheeler Barnes, Jairus Kennan, and Justus Perry Wheeler – was feted with a daylong commencement that drew spectators from miles around. That first ceremony was held downtown at the courthouse because the fledgling University lacked a building to call its own. And the Green where you sit today was little more than a rough meadow recently carved from the wilderness. What a difference two centuries make, as we celebrate the wonderful place the University of Vermont has become and the 2,285 graduates who gather on this historic ground….

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. 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 — from monitoring the impact of acid rain to battling drug addiction, from developing sustainable farming practices to preserving the memory of the Holocaust….

Chartered in 1791 by the State of Vermont, the University was founded by heroes of the American Revolution, declaring at the outset the freedom it would guarantee its faculty and students from doctrinal constraints. It was on this historic Green that our first president, Daniel Clarke Sanders, joined in the work of cutting a clearing on the hilltop, a location that he once described as “the most healthy place on Earth.”
It was here, where the Old Mill now stands, that the first college building arose, only to burn down in a great conflagration on May 27, 1824. Nearly everything the University owned was lost in that fire. But just one year later, on the strength of remarkable support from local citizens, there was again a spirit of celebration on these grounds. The Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington’s comrade-in-arms, was distinguished guest at the ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the Old Mill building that endures to this day.

The University of Vermont survived and soon it would thrive with the arrival of President James Marsh, one of the heroes of nineteenth-century American intellectual history. As a scholar, Marsh’s interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s thought was a major catalyst for this country’s Transcendental movement, serving as inspiration to iconic American philosophers and writers — Emerson, Alcott, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman. As an educational leader at the University of Vermont, Marsh would, in essence, plant the seeds of the modern college curriculum. And, importantly, President Marsh would be an original voice promoting the radical notion that college professors should incorporate their own scholarly thinking into their teaching.

James Marsh’s influence was felt across this entire country, but no place more vividly than around this Green, where he elevated the intellectual life and set the course on an educational mission that would not waver.

Many would follow, forging the identity of an institution with points of pride too numerous to catalog today except to note some illustrative examples.

We take pride in UVM’s pioneering openness to women in higher education. In 1875 our local chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was the first in the nation to enroll women, namely Lida Mason and Ellen Hamilton, who were also our first female graduates.

We take pride in George Washington Henderson, UVM Class of 1877, the first African American admitted to Phi Beta Kappa. Born a slave in Virginia, Henderson came to Vermont in 1865, balanced his UVM studies with work as a school teacher in Jericho, and went on to a remarkable career as a minister and professor of theology.

We take pride in the father of progressive education, John Dewey, UVM Class of 1879. Professor Dewey’s influence as a political and educational philosopher — driven by an intellect honed on this campus — touched the lives of citizens throughout American society. Recalling his undergraduate years at UVM, Dewey once said that reading James Marsh’s edition of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, was “a spiritual emancipation.”

We take pride in recently celebrating two alumni connections with the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1997, Jody Williams, University of Vermont Class of 1972, was honored for leadership with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. And just two years later, Dr. John McGill, a 1978 graduate of our College of Medicine and president of Doctors Without Borders, would again put Vermont in the Nobel spotlight.

We take pride in Professor Emeritus Raul Hilberg, whose relentless scholarship established a foundation of knowledge for generations of Holocaust scholars to follow. Over the course of three decades, Professor Hilberg excelled as a teacher in the classroom as well, his words echoing in the minds of former students long past graduation:

“Know what you’re looking at. Study it.

Never take anything at face value.”Class of 2004, it is my hope that the wisdom of the current University of Vermont faculty will form its own refrain years and miles beyond this place. This university is blessed with an exceptional faculty. They are distinguished scholars, scientists, and artists with national and international reputations. And, as James Marsh counseled, their original thought finds expression in the classroom, in the fundamental work of this institution which we celebrate today. Make no mistake, the distinguished faculty and talented, dedicated staff who join you on the Green take joy and pride in this day to rival your own.

It is my honor to speak for them this morning, to say to all of you: Congratulations. Job well done. You are no longer University of Vermont students. You are now University of Vermont alumni. We hope that you will emulate the devotion to intellect and education of James Marsh and John Dewey, the commitment to service and humane values of Jody Williams and Dr. John McGill, and the love of learning and resolve to make a difference in the world exemplified by the faculty who have guided your years at the University.

What the Class of 2004 will inscribe on the blank slate of possibility with your lives, by word and deed, will become the next chapter in the history of your alma mater. Go forth with courage and commitment and joy. It is your turn to build upon the records of achievement and service that are the proud legacy of generations of sons and daughters of the University of Vermont.