April 5, 2000

Former President of Poland Lech Walesa to Speak at Middlebury College's Commencement on May 21
Middlebury to Award Honorary Degrees to Walesa and Six Others

 

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. Lech Walesa, workers' rights advocate, former president of Poland, and the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner, will deliver the commencement address at Middlebury College's graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 21. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

According to Middlebury College President John M. McCardell, Jr., Walesa is one of the towering figures in world history. McCardell said, "In Lech Walesa, members of the class of 2000 will witness a man who was willing to put his own life on the line for what he believed. In our Bicentennial year, we are honored to recognize someone of such character and courage."

In 1980, Walesa, an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, became a national leader of striking Polish workers who were demanding the right to form free trade unions and negotiate with officials of the ruling Communist Party. Eventually, 10 million Polish workers and farmers joined unions under the federation named Solidarity, with Walesa as its chairman.

In 1981, the Polish government declared martial law, outlawed Solidarity, and detained Walesa in solitary confinement for nearly a year. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983. Solidarity was returned to legal status in 1989. As a wave of freedom swept Eastern Europe that year, Solidarity transformed itself from a union to a political party, winning a large majority of the Polish parliamentary seats. From 1990-1995, Walesa was Poland's first directly elected president, and helped to guide the country through the transition to a free-market economy. Since leaving the presidency, Walesa has spoken around the world about democracy and workers' rights on behalf of the Lech Walesa Institute, an organization he founded in 1995.

Middlebury College Dean of the Faculty Robert Schine, who was involved in bringing Walesa to the College, said, "Walesa's commencement address will focus on the changes in global relationships that have taken place in the wake of the end of the Cold War."

"He will discuss events of the last quarter of a century, events in which he himself played a major role and which brought freedom to Eastern Europe," added Schine.

Walesa will give his address with the help of his translator. A microphone system will enable the audience to hear both voices.

The College also will present honorary degrees to six other distinguished individuals, including Irena Anna Dyrcz-Freeman, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. As a young teacher in Poland, Dyrcz-Freeman experienced the horror of the German invasion of her homeland in 1939. Risking her life, she engaged in a series of clandestine activities forbidden by the Nazis that included tutoring students in history and the Polish language, training women and girls of the underground Peasant Party in first aid, and hiding Jews from the Nazis. Dyrcz-Freeman has been honored on a number of occasions. In 1997, she received the Yad Vashem Honorary Diploma and Medal from Yad Vashem-The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. Her granddaughter, Alina Wojnar, is a member of the Middlebury class of 2000.

Dixie Goswami, professor emerita of English at Clemson University, will receive a Doctor of Letters degree. Goswami has coordinated writing courses at the Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English for more than a decade. She is the former director of the Bread Loaf Writing Grant Program and the current coordinator of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, a professional development program for high school teachers who are current or former students of the Bread Loaf School of English. Currently visiting professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, she directs Write to Change, a national community-based literacy nonprofit organization. Professor Goswami has written widely on writing, teaching, and learning. Her granddaughter, Meredith Reeves, is a member of the Middlebury class of 2000.

The College will award a Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Gwen Ifill, who fills leading roles on two PBS Television shows as the moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week in Review" and as a senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Earlier in her career, Ifill covered politics and government for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post before being appointed a White House correspondent for The New York Times. In 1994, she became the chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News. In this position, Ifill covered many of the major political stories of the past decade, including the 1996 presidential campaign and the impeachment of President Clinton. She is a family friend of Carlos Fenwick, a member of the Middlebury class of 2000.

Michael Mone, a member of the Middlebury class of 1964, will receive a Doctor of Laws degree. A partner in the Boston law firm of Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile, he is the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Mone has been active in the college since 1984, having served as a fellow and regent since 1995, and as secretary and president-elect. He is the past president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and the Massachusetts Bar Association. Mone served on the National Board of Governors of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. He obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School in 1967 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Suffolk University in 1999. As an alumnus and benefactor of the College, Mone has been a leader in the effort to attract a diverse student body to Middlebury.

The College will present a Doctor of Laws degree to Olin Robison, who served as its president from 1975 through 1990. Since 1991, he has been president of the Salzburg Seminar, a nonprofit organization based in both Middlebury and Salzburg, Austria, which conducts a program to bring together leaders in education, government, business, and the nonprofit sector from around the world to foster international cooperation and discussion. Prior to entering academia, Robison served at the State Department as special assistant to Deputy Undersecretaries U. Alexis Johnson, Foy D. Kohler, and Charles Bohlen. He has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union. Robison has also served on and chaired numerous commissions and task forces, including the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

Sylvia Robison, who will receive a Doctor of Letters degree, has been involved in numerous civic and cultural groups. As a member of the Middlebury College staff during the time when her husband Olin Robison was president of the College, she planned functions and special events, completed writing and editing projects for the development office, and acted as a liaison with the local community. A former teacher and junior high school principal, Ms. Robison is a current or former trustee or board member for many organizations, including Reading is Fundamental, the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center, and the Sheldon Museum in Middlebury.

The outdoor graduation ceremonies will take place on the lawn behind Forest Hall on College Street (Route 125) at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 21. More than 4,000 family and friends are expected to attend. In the case of inclement weather, commencement will be held in Kenyon Arena on Route 30.

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