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
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
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.