MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Commencement speaker Angela Brazil challenged the graduates of the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English on August 11 to be “fierce, bold, brave teachers and writers and administrators and public advocates who will joyously risk being changed [and] who will flow like rivers down off this mountain.”

Brazil, the director of Brown University’s MFA program in acting and directing, said, “Teachers create spaces for students to see themselves in history, in literature, in their communities. You cultivate ways for their stories to mingle with the stories they are encountering. In your work, there is possibility for extraordinary change.”

Angela Brazil, director of the Trinity Repertory Company, delivered the Commencement address on August 11.

And like a skillful actor on stage, a teacher has to “decide to do it every night, in every scene. You have to step into the circle. You have to risk something. You have to make it matter.” Teachers must “decide to be fearless” and “make room for voices from underrepresented perspectives.” They also need to “risk messiness” in the classroom, “plunge their arms elbow-deep into a poem instead of shaping it into a neat ball,” and allow their students “to learn kinesthetically, to get out of those desks and move … to really see each other as well as the text.”

Brazil, who was selected as the Commencement speaker by the graduating class of Master of Arts degree candidates, has been a Bread Loaf faculty member since 2012 and a member of the School’s Theatre Ensemble since 2006. Her potent “decide to do it” refrain resounded throughout her address.

The director of the School of English, Emily C. Bartels, welcomed the graduates, family members, and friends to the third Bread Loaf graduations held this summer. (The previous two ceremonies were held at Santa Fe, N.M., and Oxford, U.K., on July 26 and August 4, respectively.)

Stacey “Mitch” Mitchell King delivered remarks to the graduates.

Clare Costello and Stacey “Mitch” Mitchell King, copresidents of the 2018 graduating class, presented the senior class gift and delivered remarks.

Costello, who teaches English in Racine, Wis., said, “At Bread Loaf we are given a space to be risk takers, to stretch ourselves, to ask questions, to be vulnerable—and we are able to do so because we are never alone in doing it. A friend recently described it this way, ‘You’re never the only one saying yes to things.’

“At Bread Loaf, we participate in a ‘communion of yes.’ This communion is what makes us able to question more deeply in class, to share a poem with each other… . This communion is what makes us able to drop the performance of our daily lives and become our truest selves: open, vulnerable, and together,” Costello affirmed.

Mitchell King, from Columbus, Ohio, issued a “call to arms” to her fellow teachers. She said, “Your job, teachers, is to make people think for themselves. And as an endangered species, this is all we have. This is the thing I have grown to know about Bread Loaf: I am among people who are an endangered species.

“So instead, when I go back out, I am going to demand that teachers understand that yes, I am a physical education and health teacher, however every teacher is a reading teacher first. And if you are not that, then you should not be teaching.”

President Patton (l.) conferred an honorary doctorate on Douglas Wood MA English ‘97. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton, Director Bartels, and Associate Director Lyndon J. Dominique conferred a master’s degree on each graduate, and a faculty member chosen by the class, Brenda Brueggmann, placed a master’s hood on the shoulders of each degree recipient.

Lastly, the School of English conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters degree to Douglas Wood, a senior fellow in justice, equity, and opportunity at the Aspen Institute. Wood, who earned an MA from Bread Loaf in 1997, began his career as a public-school teacher after graduating from Wofford College. The South Carolina native was a program officer at the Ford Foundation from 2011 to 2018 where, for a time, he led an initiative for social justice in global higher education. Prior to joining Ford, Wood was executive director and chief education officer of the Tennessee State Board of Education and a fellow at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

The 99th summer of the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English came to a close as the graduates and faculty members, friends and guests, walked out of Burgess Meredith Little Theater and over to the Barn for a joyous reception.

– Photography by Todd Balfour