Commencement 2021: Inaugural ‘Middlebury Medal’ Presented to Chief Health Officer Mark Peluso
As part of the 2021 Commencement ceremony, President Laurie Patton presented the first-ever Middlebury Medal to Chief Health Officer and College Physician Mark Peluso. Following is the citation that was read during the ceremony.
May 29, 2021
Mark Peluso, this year you have led us through an extraordinary time, guided by science and with an unwavering commitment to keeping our community safe. You have served as an example of how to think and make decisions independently with care and compassion for all.
Your collaborative leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies our mission at Middlebury and represents the essence of the liberal arts and sciences. After your undergraduate years at Bowdoin College, you pursued successful early careers in lacrosse and business before turning your attention to a career of service in medicine, completing your studies at Boston University School of Medicine. During your residency in Salinas, California, you were recognized as a leader among your peers and elected as chief resident at the University of California San Francisco Salinas Family Practice Residency Program. There, you were head of a small group of residents serving a large community of migrant workers, and developed an ability to identify critical needs in almost any medical situation. You got the job done with few staff, and even fewer resources.
These skills and experiences, along with your love of community and family—and the decisive and high-stakes approach to surgery which you encountered in your training—helped to shape your way of thinking in general practice and sports medicine. You completed a Sports Medicine Fellowship through Stanford University-San Jose Medical Center and later became a founding member and chair of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Medical Aspects in Sport Committee, and the Primary Care Team Physician for the 2015 U.S. Women’s National Under-19 Lacrosse Team. Throughout your medical training, you continued your pursuit of learning and reading about the latest developments and practices in the field, an approach you continue today.
In the early months of 2020, as the pandemic emerged in the United States, you drew on all of those skills and dispositions to move swiftly and decisively to keep Middlebury safe. In March 2020, you created a safe exit strategy and emergency evacuation plan when we still knew little about the voracity of this virus. You spent your summer leading and collaborating on the design of an equally safe return to campus strategy—with every protocol based on the most recent data available. You created matrices to share with the community to provide clear explanations and an understanding of our decision-making. You listened to and understood the anxiety of neighbors—talking to any and all who called. With your colleagues you developed the initial design of our testing center at Virtue Field House, and worked with a newly formed operations team to ensure that people were tested, fed, and safely in room quarantine as they arrived on our campus. You collaborated with the Vermont Department of Health, Vermont colleges, Porter Medical Center, and Addison County Home Health and Hospice so that the College could test at a larger scale and provide vaccines to the campus community. You spent many hours with the families of students who sought clarity or who needed reassurance after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
In November of 2020, you designed another safe exit strategy in the midst of our second worldwide surge of cases and lockdowns, talking late into the night with students who were in quarantine or isolation as well as with their families. Again in early 2021, you created a safe pathway to reentry in the midst of this resurgence and some of the highest rates of COVID-19 of the entire pandemic. Later in the spring, as vaccines became available in Vermont, you worked with your colleagues and community partners to design vaccination clinics at the College—for veterans, BIPOC citizens of Vermont, and College students alike.
You communicated with us constantly—never letting an email or a phone call go unanswered. You worked through the night on health updates that were due the next day. You created and hosted COVID-19 workshops on a weekly basis. You led the higher education community in the state of Vermont, offering counsel on making the best statewide policies for staff, faculty, and students. Your phone was never off. Your Zoom room was always open. There was no person in our community who did not benefit from your extraordinary calm and your carefully crafted expertise—well-informed and yet clear and concise. You delivered medical care with a rare combination of precision, warmth and humor.
For the past year and a half, you have been working ceaselessly in emergency conditions for the welfare of Middlebury. Because of your dedication and abilities, our community ended this year with one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation. Our students learned in safety; our faculty taught confidently; our staff worked with a sense of security. The College earned the trust of its neighbors. Our parents sent their students to Middlebury with confidence. Through your example, we were able to care for each other in better and more informed ways than ever before. Middlebury survived, and thrived, thanks to your endless labor and wise interventions. We are grateful beyond what any words can express.
Dr. Mark Peluso, chief health officer and College physician, it is therefore my privilege and honor to present to you, on behalf of the trustees and community of Middlebury College, the honor of the first Middlebury Medal, given on an extraordinary occasion where an individual’s humanitarian actions have profoundly benefited the Middlebury College community.
May those who follow you be inspired by your courage and humanity and carry forth your spirit.