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Students in caps and gowns on the Middlebury quad for commencement
Members of the Middlebury College Class of 2022 celebrated Commencement on Sunday, May 29. (Credit: Brett Simison )

Under cloudless blue skies, graduates, faculty, staff, family, and friends gathered on Middlebury’s main quad Sunday to celebrate Commencement for the 461 members of the Class of 2022.

The occasion was especially celebratory because it was the first time the Middlebury community had gathered in one place for the ceremonies in three years.

“You might have noticed an extra buzz in the air this morning,” said President Laurie L. Patton in her welcoming remarks. “It’s the first time we’ve all been together since 2019, and I’m so delighted we can all be with each other this morning.”

Graduating seniors Om Gokhale and Roni Lezama, who were selected to co-present the student Commencement address this year, offered poignant thoughts on settling into feelings of uncertainty that come with graduation.

Gokhale, an independent scholar in humane design from Redwood City, California, noted the emotional parallels between the first and last weeks of college. Over the “1,460 days,” he said, he learned to embrace many new people and experiences.

“Uncertainty is a funny emotion,” Gokhale said. “It can sit on your shoulder during magical times of your life—your first weeks of college, or your last—and try to convince you that something is not quite complete about the present.

“It whispers in your ears sentences that begin with ‘What if’ or ‘I wish.’ Maybe these past few months, you’ve heard it whisper: ‘I’m glad to be graduating college, but what if I didn’t make the most of it?’ Or: ‘I wish I knew what I was doing next,’ or whether I was doing the right thing next, or if I am becoming the person I am supposed to be.”

Two Middlebury College graduates standing at a podium to deliver the Commencement student address.
Roni Lezama (right) and Om Gokhale delivered the 2022 Middlebury College Commencement student address. (Credit: Brett Simison )

Gokhale observed that doubts are what make us feel alive, and curing them shouldn’t be the goal.

“What does it look like to embrace not knowing?” he asked his classmates. “To acknowledge the cosmic rarity of life feeling settled, even on days like this one? To sink into the uncertainty of the present, to hear the questions that you don’t yet have answers to, and still choose to be here, now?”

Lezama, an international politics and economics major and education studies minor from Queens, New York, offered a complementary take on uncertainty, invoking the late author and activist bell hooks’s essay “Toward a Worldwide Culture of Love,” which he read for a class at Middlebury. 

Lezama said, “hooks put it best: ‘To wait for a time to come. To say that the best version of our life, and our most loving, peaceful self, has been waiting behind this milestone or the next one. But the truth is, your life is not any less complete in moments of uncertainty than it is when we have all the things we want.’ Today is an important day, and is an appropriate time to practice love, to express gratitude, to be here, now. But the other days can be too.”

The outgoing president of the Student Government Association, Lezama, recalled his friend and fellow SGA leader Miguel Sanchez-Tortoledo ’23, whose death from cancer last year shook the campus community. Lezama said one of his biggest regrets of the past four years was not expressing his appreciation for one of the most “endlessly endearing” and empathetic people he had met. He urged his classmates not to wait to express their love.

”It is our habit to wait,” said Lezama. “For when things are a little less hectic. For moments and celebrations like this one. For some perfect, poetic time.

“But as hooks said, ‘For so many of us our longing to love and be loved has always been about a time to come.’

“But I ask you, Class of 2022, what if every day could be that time? What if certainty and perfection were not prerequisites to loving wholly, and living fully?”

Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal, the digital payment services company, delivered the 2022 Commencement address and received an honorary doctor of letters degree. Schulman has advocated for companies to help shape society for the better by sharing their financial successes with their employees. He is widely recognized for his commitment to social change and his passion for equity, justice, and human rights.

Commencement speaker Dan Schulman stands at the podium to give his address.
Middlebury alum and PayPal CEO Dan Schulman ’80 delivered the Middlebury College Commencement address on Sunday, May 29. (Credit: Todd Balfour )

A 1980 graduate of Middlebury, Schulman has worked to democratize and transform financial services and e-commerce to improve the financial health of people, families, and businesses around the world. With more than 426 million individuals and businesses using PayPal, Schulman has helped grow and strengthen the company since his arrival in 2014.

Schulman told the graduates that the world needs them to bring everything they’ve learned as liberal arts students over the past four years to their future work and daily actions, and to confronting and offering solutions to the world’s more critical problems.

“More than ever, we need to understand what it means to form and sustain community,” said Schulman. “All of us have a responsibility to each other. I can assure you that your values and principles will matter in every work situation and environment you encounter. They matter in the day-to-day decisions you will make in your personal and professional lives.”

Schulman urged the graduates to continually interrogate their own ways of thinking through listening—listening to understand instead of listening to respond.

“History teaches us over and over again that some of our fiercest assumptions will turn out to be completely wrong,” said Schulman. “A good question to ask yourself today is ‘What might I be wrong about?’” Watch a video of Schulman’s speech.

In addition to Dan Schulman, honorary degrees were presented to:

Joseph Bruchac, Doctor of Arts, a citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coonuk Abenaki Nation and a respected elder, is a widely published author who is deeply committed to peace, justice, and racial equity.

Nan Jenks-Jay, Doctor of Humane Letters, is a leading voice in environmental studies and sustainability programs within higher education.

Read more about the honorary degree recipients here.

Each graduate received a replica of Gamaliel Painter’s cane, presented by Janine Hetherington ’95, president of the Middlebury Alumni Association. The cane is a symbol representing the founding of the College, and now is used as the mace for official academic ceremonial events. Patton noted that the canes have many stories connected to them, including stories of the workers who made them, the trees that provided the wood, and the Native Americans who cared for the forests. 

“We are only beginning to tell these stories, and we ask you to remember them as you journey from here,” she said. “These canes are a symbol of the historical ties that bind us all to this institution, the generosity that supports us, and the hard work and learning that brought you to this place today as a graduate of Middlebury College.”

Also as part of the ceremony, Mark Orten, dean of spiritual and religious life, gave the College’s land acknowledgment, followed by an opening prayer and playing of the flute by Jesse Bowman Bruchac, son of Joseph Bruchac, of the Nulhegan Band of the Coonuk Abenaki Nation.

Three students were recognized with Commencement Honors: Andrew Carter Ng, a biology and economics major from Woodinville, Washington, and Mykhailo Poklad, a joint studio art and film and media culture major from Kyiv, Ukraine, were named co-valedictorians. Mingjiu Gao, a double major in literary studies and French from Beijing, China, was named salutatorian.

Among the other events of Commencement weekend, graduates gathered Saturday at Middlebury Chapel for the traditional Baccalaureate service and the newest members of Phi Beta Kappa were inducted during a ceremony at Robison Hall.