University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Nickelodeon president to speak at commencement

Cyma Zarghami
Cyma Zarghami, photograph by Janet Van Ham/Nickelodeon (c)2011 Viacom International, Inc.

The Green

Nickelodeon president to speak at commencement

Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon television network and an alumna of the university, will deliver the address to graduates at the University of Vermont’s 2012 Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20.

After leaving the University of Vermont in 1985, Zarghami took a position at Nickelodeon, a then start-up children's television network. Beginning at an entry-level position, Zarghami gradually rose through the company ranks. She was named president in 2006 and now oversees all creative and business operations for Viacom’s Nickelodeon Group, which has been the number one cable television network in the United States for 17 straight years, and has expanded to serve more than 350 million people in over 25 languages around the world.

In addition to Zarghami, the university will confer honorary degrees upon Robert De Cormier, John Hennessey, Jr., Denise Shekerjian, and Ann Swanson.

Robert De Cormier graduated from Juilliard School of Music in 1948. In the 1950s he met and performed with other young musicians who would become the legends of the American folk music movement, and would become music director, first for Harry Belafonte, later for the famed trio Peter, Paul and Mary. De Cormier became music director of the New York Choral Society in 1970, and, at age 90, he remains its music director emeritus. A Vermont resident for more than four decades, De Cormier is the co-founder and director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus. He toured extensively as the founder and conductor of the Robert De Cormier Singers and the Vermont-based vocal ensemble Counterpoint.

John W. Hennessey, Jr., has been a national leader in higher education for more than four decades. During his thirty years at Dartmouth College, he served as professor of organizational behavior and business ethics, dean of the Tuck Business School, and co-founder of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute. In 1967, when Hennessey was asked to serve as the sixth dean of Tuck, he accepted the offer only after the trustees voted to admit women to the MBA program, four years before the approval of undergraduate coeducation at Dartmouth. Hennessey became the University of Vermont’s first provost in 1987, and he later served as the University’s interim president, contributing significantly to the University’s achievements and its strategic agenda. Hennessey’s many professional and civic contributions include chairing the governing boards of the Educational Testing Service, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and Kendal at Hanover.  In our Green Mountain state, he has been a trustee of UVM, the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont (now Fletcher Allen Healthcare), Vermont Law School, and, currently, Goddard College.

Author and blogger Denise Shekerjian of Charlotte, Vt. is tirelessly engaged in the quest to get inside the creative process. She is the author of the 1990 Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born that explores the common elements of creativity across disciplines based on interviews with 40 MacArthur Foundation fellows (winners of the “genius” prize). Also a lawyer, Shekerjian drew upon her early experiences as a federal court trial attorney to write Competent Counsel, a non-fiction book about working with lawyers. Since 2009, she has been the blogger behind “Soul of a Word” in which she intimately explores the writing life, urging readers in one post to “Seek discovery… It’s the finding out, and not what you find.” The author of many essays and short stories, Shekerjian’s first novel, The Color of Heaven, is under review. A new nonfiction work drawn from her blog is under development.

Field ecologist Ann Swanson ’79 has served as the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission since 1988, and as a founding member of the Board of Advisors for UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources since the mid-1990s. Providing leadership to the commission, a legislative assembly representing Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Swanson has received high praise for her innovative efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, the largest and most productive estuary in the world — but one troubled by pollution and overharvesting. Overseeing one of the most complex restoration projects in U.S. history, Swanson has been guided by the best available science and a deep understanding of the interdependent communities of people and wildlife that live in and around the Chesapeake Bay. Her work has helped usher in fundamental improvements in the way water quality and habitat protection is addressed in the Bay region, and throughout North America.

The main commencement ceremony will be held on the University Green at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 20. Individual school and college ceremonies will take place at various locations in the afternoon. The Graduate College ceremony takes place the day prior, at 1 p.m. in Patrick Gymnasium.

For questions on UVM Commencement 2012, please contact Kelly O’Malley, coordinator of presidential events, (802) 656-3272,

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