It’s official: the graduates have made the walk, been handed their degrees, and flipped their tassels from right to left. But leading up to that moment, a fair amount was asked of the Class of 2014 on Saturday.
“I beg you, I beg you to stay in Vermont, live, work, raise a family in the best state of the fifty states, that’s my plea to you today,” Governor Peter Shumlin told the Class of 2014.
Moments earlier the nearly 600 graduates walked out of the staging area in Norwich University’s Kreitzberg Arena into the brilliant afternoon sun. They followed Gov. Shumlin, President Joyce Judy, commencement speaker Stuart Comstock-Gay, student speaker Olivia Smith-Hammond, and a line of Vermont State College board members and staff, on the short march down to Shapiro Field House. And when they finally entered the field house, they were greeted by approximately 3,000 guests, faculty, and staff who turned out to celebrate their achievements.
After remarks from President Judy, Gov. Shumlin took the podium and congratulated the graduates. He told them how hopeful he was for the future, and how they contributed to that feeling with the strength and tenacity they had shown by reaching that moment. And he assured them there were opportunities for them in Vermont, opportunities befitting their new status as college graduates.
“Our employers say to me everyday, you give me more CCV graduates, people who are bright and capable, and who have the fight and determination and the ability to get things done in an innovative way, to make critical decisions and do it wisely, and we can double our companies, we can expand and we can grow and we can prosper,” Gov. Shumlin said. “The one thing that stands in the way of our prosperity is not having enough of your friends join you getting to where you are right now.”
Shortly thereafter, President and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation Stuart Comstock-Gay addressed the graduates. He began by informing them that the achievement they had completed would change their lives and those of everyone around them. He told them they were poised to make positive change in their communities. And finally, he told them they would each encounter four decision points going forward in their lives, and he asked them to listen to his advice on those points.
“When you’re asked to join something, do it,” Comstock-Gay said. “When you have a chance to be generous, take it. When you have a new opportunity, don’t let fear paralyze you. And fill your bucket of time with the most important rocks first.”
Comstock-Gay explained how making these choices would strengthen each of them as individuals while also strengthening the community. He told of how these choices would lead to healthier lives and richer relationships. And he instructed them to decide what was important to them first–family, job, religion, whatever–and remain focused on that.
“That’s the first decision, the rest follows from there,” he said.Comstock-Gay’s points about the importance of strengthening community were emphasized during the ceremony when President Judy awarded the College’s 2014 Community Service Awards. Steve Costello, Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) vice president for generation and energy innovation was honored for his work strengthening the Rutland area through organized events and the development of GMP’s Energy and Innovation Center. Faculty member Melanie Meyer was recognized for the numerous hunger and nutrition-related service learning projects she has incorporated into her classes. And students Aline Mukeshimana and Michael Washington both received awards for their service to others.
There was also another request made of the Class of 2014, and this one came from their peer, Olivia Smith-Hammond. Standing before her classmates, Smith-Hammond told of her disability and how it had impacted her life and her time as a student. She admitted that had she known it would take her seven years to earn her degree, she might never have started. But she persevered, in part thanks to the wisdom she found in Audre Lord’s words.
“When I felt like giving up, I looked to a quote that has gotten me through many challenging times,” Smith-Hammond said. “Feminist and activist Audre Lord says, ‘when I dare to be powerful, to use my strength, in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I’m afraid.’”
Smith acknowledged that much of the work she took on during her time at CCV, particularly math, felt like climbing Mount Everest with very little oxygen. And she recognized her classmates for their hard work and their efforts at overcoming obstacles to reach the end goal. And then she asked of them a very simple and well deserved request.
“For all of us whom it takes great effort to complete nearly everything, triumph is cause for celebration, let’s take a moment now to reflect on the Everest we’ve each had to overcome,” she said, “and let’s celebrate our accomplishments.”
Governor Peter Shumlin
Student Speaker Olivia Smith-Hammond
Vermont Community Foundation President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay
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