Graduation Day Photos

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2021 Middlebury Commencement

A recording of the 2021 Middlebury Commencement, held on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Please rise for the National Anthem sung by Middlebury College Choir under the direction of  Professor Jeffrey Buettner. Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? Please be seated. Good afternoon. My name is Laurie Patton and I am the president of Middlebury on behalf of the Middlebury trustees and faculty, I would like to welcome you to this celebration of the accomplishments of the members of the Middlebury College class of 2021. I am so delighted that we have our seniors and two guests here on campus and their family and friends watching online this afternoon. Welcome to all of you. A land acknowledgment and the invocation this afternoon will be pronounced by Mark Orten, dean of spiritual and religious life and chaplain of the college. We pause to acknowledge that Middlebury College sits on land, which has served as a site of meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples since time immemorial, the Western Abenaki are the traditional caretakers of these Vermont lands and waters, which they call Ndakinna or Homeland. We remember their connection to this region and the hardships they continue to endure. Let us take a moment of silence to pay respect to the Abenaki elders and to the indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island, past and present. We give thanks for the opportunity to share in the bounty of this place and to protect it. We are all one in the sacred web of life that connects people, animals, plants, air, water and earth. So let us also invoke awareness, inviting the fullness of this time and all that has passed before leading us until now. Including historical harm. And ancestral grief. And institutional habituation and complicity. Acknowledging that we are here and now in this liminal moment upon a threshold within a doorway that changes not us or who we are, but our circumstance, our condition and our position. Let us name in these extraordinary times the mixture of our profound emotion and feelings, excitement, anticipation. Nervousness. Satisfaction. Regret. Pride. Accomplishment. Responsibility and power. Come now, efficacy of ritual and ceremony constitute in beauty and intention by our ever forged togetherness through these pandemic stricken times, our celebration of the commencement of these who hold the promise of hope, of educated lives, bountiful in talent and intellect upon a much ready world. Amin, amen, and amen Today’s event is well planned with the assistance of many people, but our celebration, especially this year, is minimally rehearsed. In fact, it is pretty much unrehearsed and is taking place in seven different locations. And so we ask for your patience. This is your day, and we hope that you enjoy it to the fullest. And now I’d also like to make note that the students who we recognize today have worked tremendously hard to reach this this moment. We are so proud of them as individuals and as a class, but we know that they did not get to this moment on their own. So students, please join me now in recognizing parents, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, friends and family members of our graduating seniors whose devotion and support enabled them to be here today. Thank you. I would also like to thank the members of the college staff whose many weeks of preparation have helped make this commencement possible, Middlebury is so fortunate to have a truly dedicated staff who’ve been hard at work over the last several weeks and since very early this morning. Would you please join me now in thanking the Middlebury College staff for their much appreciated efforts? Finally, I would ask that we pause to remember Eric Masinter, a member of the class of 2021 who passed away in the summer of 2019, Eric was a musician, an artist, writer and rock climber. We remember him and his family and his friends today. I ask that you join me in a moment of silence in remembrance. Eric’s memory be a blessing to all. In Middlebury’s early years, every member of the student body delivered remarks at commencement. Imagine that we would be here considerably longer than we will be today. And then about 150 years ago, the student speeches at commencement faded out and 2000, our bicentennial year, a student speech was restored to the ceremony. This year, student address will be delivered by Nathan Gunesch. Nate Gunesch is a political science major from the small town of Government Camp, Oregon. He has spent his years at Middlebury studying political philosophy, environmental policy and English and American literature. On campus he has served home cooked meals with a student group, Dolci. He has greeted Vermonters across the state through his WRMC radio show, and he has spent his mornings working as an intern at the Knoll. He also loves to spend time outside and is an avid skier, mountain biker and rock climber. Since arriving at Middlebury Nate has come to consider Vermont home. After graduation, he’s excited to spend the next chapter of his life in our wonderful state of Vermont. Please join me in welcoming Nate. Thank you, President Patton, Class of 2021. I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve as your commencement speaker and to deliver the speech that I wrote with my friend Lucas County. When Luke and I sat down to write the speech, we decided to begin with a memory of Luke’s first visit to Middlebury in March of 2016. As he tells it, he doesn’t remember every detail of the campus tour, which conveniently avoided Battell in all its glory of all things. He remembered the information session afterward because it brought his mom to tears after touting student to faculty ratios and the value of a liberal arts education, the student leading the session shared a quote which he attributed to Maya Angelou. At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel. Luke turned and saw his mom was crying. I guess she really didn’t want him to go here. I fully acknowledge the sentimentality and cliche, but I believe that this quote rings true for all of us at Middlebury won’t remember every picnic at the Knoll, every night in Bihall or every conversation we had as we walked between our classes. hell, I hardly remember anything from my final two days ago, but I will remember how Middlebury made me feel and how you all made me feel. Unlike the rest of you, I’m not from Boston. I grew up in a small town out West, but even though I’m not from a city, the first time I smelled that fertile fragrance of manure wafting across the campus, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Fortunately, that is just one of the smells of Middlebury. It is accompanied by the smell of the afternoon coffee, which gets you through your midterms, the smell of the dining hall that somehow lingers on your coat, and the smell of the freshly cut grass on Battell Beach. This year, there are new smells, hand sanitizers and disinfectants, and there are some that we lost, many of which we never knew we’d miss, like the wood smoke from the hearth at flatbread or the sweat of countless bodies crammed into an Atwater suite. Although I can’t say I’ll necessarily missed the manure will always remind me of our home. We remember these sensations, our professors tell us we should leave the school with the ability to think critically, to express ourselves in writing and to engage with opinions different from our own. And they’re probably right. But ultimately, it is these sensations which will draw us back. We all know the flavors of the dining hall, the craving for grille fries In the early hours of the morning, we’ve experienced the flavors of Vermont to like a crisp apple straight off the tree at Happy Valley Orchard. As students, we’ve tasted the disappointment of an all nighter that didn’t pay off as Panthers, we’ve tasted the sweetness of a NESCAC championship. We were there to celebrate together and good times and support each other when things were tough. Today, I hope we all feel Vermont tastes like a maple creemee. What does Middlebury feel like? Well like other colleges, Middlebury feels cold no matter how many winters we endure, we’ll never get used to that first subzero morning in time. But with the winter comes skiing and the exhilarating rush of the wind whipping past your face at the Snow Bowl in the fall. It’s the disconcerting crunch of a worm beneath your feet on the first rainy day in the spring. It’s the surprising warmth of sunbathing at Lake Dunmore on a 50 degree afternoon. Middlebury feels like the grip of your community friend pulling you across the floor of Proctor Dining Hall. It’s the feeling of belonging to something that extends beyond the borders of our campus. You all know the sounds of Middlebury, how could we forget the musical genius of Old Town Road, Mobamba or Mr. Brightside. From Sicko Mode to the Yodel Kid remix? These are the classics of our eight semesters. I know the next time we hear like a prayer, there won’t be a dry eye or a shirt left on in the room. Saturdays can’t help but feel a bit too quiet this year. Who knew we would even miss the a cappella concerts? There’s still the incessant squawking of crows that descend on campus each night and those chapel bells which have drowned out so many of our lunchtime conversations over the years, we hear the sounds of protests as our classmates called for racial justice and marched for divestment. We’ll all walk away with our own music of Middlebury, and it will form the soundtrack of our memories. The beauty of Vermont and our pastoral campus will perhaps be the hardest to leave behind. I swear Middlebury is home to the best sunsets in the world. And though I can’t claim to have woken up from any of them, the sunrises are pretty damn good, too, despite the harsh winters and the 50 minute drive to the nearest city. I don’t think I realized how lucky we were to have called these green mountains home. On a foggy morning, the clouds veil the base of these hills as if the trees themselves were exhaling. In the fall, they erupt in a blaze of autumnal glory, only to be smothered by the first blanket of snow. None of us will ever forget the first time we saw the Frisbee team streaking across Davis Library. And, of course, the sight of our classmates, the faces that have accompanied us throughout these four years as we were whisked away from the pandemic, cutting our semester short, I didn’t realize it would also be the last time I would see some of those faces. But I was struck by the acts of kindness that I witnessed last March as we said goodbye, although our extra week of spring break transformed into a year and a half of social distancing. Our class has exhibited resilience and compassion. We all made sacrifices or lost something or someone. Yet in the face of this loss, we persevered. What we have accomplished this year and what we are celebrating now is not just our academic achievement, but the strength of our community, the fact that we can look into this audience and see our parents, friends and loved ones is a testament to our accomplishment in keeping our community safe. The pandemic has shown us that life is unpredictable. The only thing we can be totally certain of is this present moment. Yet we are so often focused on our future, never more so than at graduation. As the admissions fellow in that fateful information session was so eager to stress, Middlebury’s rigorous, it instilled in us a desire to strive toward greatness. And that drive is something I admire in my classmates. But our four years here can feel like a competition to see who is the busiest, the most stressed. We constantly pursue the next internship or job. We wish away exams and papers, and we anticipate the weekend, even graduation, can feel like an objective, a goal we have been working tirelessly toward for years. In this moment, however, no matter what your plans are, once we leave this place, I hope we can remember the virtue of standing still. Luke and I share a favorite novel, Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, sadly passed away earlier this spring. In it, McMurtry writes, Yesterday’s gone down the river and you can’t get it back as much as I wish it were possible, we cannot relive our time at Middlebury. But we can take a moment now to reflect before we rush on to the next stage of our lives. Thank a Professor. Hug a friend and think of those who are not graduating alongside us. Recall the coaches, the staff members and the classmates who have defined Middlebury for you. You all class of 2021 have defined Middlebury for me. I don’t ask that you remember everything, and I don’t even imagine that you’ll remember this speech, but I know that we will remember how we made each other feel. Savor the bittersweet taste of graduation. Whether sorrow, relief, anxiety or unbridled joy revel in these feelings and take them with you. More than the diploma, more than Gamaliel Painter’s cane and more than a lifetime of explaining where Middlebury is, these feelings are Middlebury and I will cherish them forever. Thank you. Thank you so much Nate, wonderful. Every year since 1981, the members of the senior class have honored their time at Middlebury and marked their graduation by making a gift to the college. This year, members of the class of 2021 and 2021.5 joined with the student government to support justice projects, funding affinity spaces and student run projects that promote justice, equity, diversity and inclusion on campus. Thank you, members of this fabulous graduating class and everyone else who contributed to this gift. We deeply appreciate your commitment to creating a diverse, welcoming community with full and equitable participation for all individuals and groups. The pandemic made so many things harder and fundraising for the senior class gift was no exception, and they did beautifully. I’d like to acknowledge the members of the senior committee who are members of the classes of 2021 and 2021.5 and thank them for their work over the past year. Emily Ballou, Arlo Fleischer, Grace Harring, Jack Spiritless and Marissa Smith. Because of your efforts, hundreds of members of the class of 2021 contributed to the gift members of those classes. Your gift is a wonderful expression of your continuing connection to Middlebury and we couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you. Later this afternoon, every graduating senior will receive a replica of Gamaliel Painter’s cane, Gamaliel Painter was one of the founders of Middlebury College, and when he died, he left his estate to the college, including his walking stick, which he was often seen carrying across campus and around town. His cane has become the college’s mace, carried by the president at all academic ceremonial occasions to signify Middlebury’s founding spirit, its optimism and its future. You may recall holding Painter’s cane at your first your convocation when it was passed from student to student in the chapel. Today, we will give you each your own cane handcrafted here in Vermont of New England, Beech and Ashe to carry forward into your life as alumns and to bring back for reunion. This cane has many, many other stories besides the one that we just told stories of the workers who made it. Stories of the women and men from all backgrounds and races and ethnicities who lived and worked in the households of Vermont, where this cane and others stood in the hallways, stories of the groves of trees which provided the wood and the Native Americans who cared for them. We are only beginning to tell these stories and we ask that you remember them as you journey from here. 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. Before I begin the presentation of the honorary degrees, I would like to present a very special award. There are few moments in an institution’s history where it must pause to recognize the exceptional achievements and humanitarian service of one of its members, the trustees of Middlebury have created a medal to be presented on the rare occasions in the college’s history when such service should be recognized with the highest of honors. This past year, the year of a pandemic where we literally held one another’s lives in our hands has been one of those moments for Middlebury, one of our community members. Work has been nothing short of life saving for us all. I would like to ask Dr. Mark Peluso to come join me on the stage next to the podium. Yup. Mark Peluso, I have the honor and privilege to present the Middlebury Medal to you this year, you have led us through an extraordinary time, guided by science and an unwavering commitment to keeping our communities 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 you encountered in your training helped 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, Medical Aspects and Sport Committee, and the primary care team physician for the 2015 U.S. Women’s National under 19 lacrosse team. You have served as adviser to many medical organizations and led community partners to create an innovative program ensure ensuring access to sexual assault, Nurse Examiner Services in Addison County. Throughout your medical training, you continued your pursuit of learning and reading about the latest developments and practices in the field and approach you continue today. In the early months of 2020, as the pandemic emerged in the United States, you drew on all those skills and dispositions to move swiftly and decisively to keep Middlebury’s safe. In March 2020, you created a safe exit strategy, an emergency evacuation plan. When we still knew little about the seriousness 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 Vertue 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 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 work through the night on health updates that would do 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 of any college or university 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. And through your example, we were able to care for one another and 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 Middlebury Medal given on an extraordinary occasion when 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. Well, congratulations, Mark. And now I would like to begin the presentation of the honorary degrees. I would like to invite Amy Karlin and Michael Sheridan to come forward to present John Derek for his honorary degree. So. President Patton, I have the honor to present for the degree of doctor of Humane Letters, John Derek. John B. Derek, mastermind of the trail around Middlebury, Trailblazer and Bridge builder, both literal and figurative, you have changed the way we and thousands of others experience the town in which we live. For more than 30 years, you built and maintained the TAM, the 16 miles of scenic and safe trails that provides so much treasured recreation space for our community, especially in the pandemic. A walk around the trail, one of the TAM’s enthusiast roads will take you across the distinctive ecosystems of Middlebury protected woods, working farmland, manicured college playing fields, neighborhood backyards and town streets resounding with everyday bustle. It has no destination. It’s simply circles. We walked its length again and again not to get somewhere, but to see, to hear, to walk, to think, and to be in Middlebury as trail director and as the primary architect and engineer for its three bridges, two of which span Otter Creek, you helped connect our community to our land and landscape, your vision and energy infused every inch of the trail and have influenced the scores of undergraduate trail maintenance volunteers and geography department interns you’ve worked with at the college. You also helped nurture and to life the Knoll, our organic garden, building the access road, constructing buildings, teaching students how to weld and provided needed machinery further afield. You helped bring about the Vermont section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, whose 4600 miles across eight states from North Dakota to Vermont, not one to put up your feet in your retirement. You’re continuing to increase our access to the outdoors with your service to the Middlebury Area Land Trust Trails Committee. John Derek, you have provided immense value to the community and the college, and our gratitude is great. It is therefore my privilege by virtue of the authority vested in me by the board of trustees of Middlebury, to confer upon you the degree of doctor of humane letters, onerous Kausar with all the rights, honors, privileges and responsibilities here and everywhere pertaining to this degree. I would now like to invite Dr. Mark Peluso and Professor Gray Spatafora to come forward to present Dr. Mark Levine for his honorary degree. President Patton, I have the honor to present for the degree of doctor of science, Mark Levine. Dr. Mark Levine, we have you to thank for our ability to be here today and celebrate Middlebury’s commencement in person with guests at the end of an academic year that, while challenging, was also relatively safe and healthy here on campus. That’s because as Vermont’s commissioner of health, you have delivered a steady, measured, data driven approach to understanding and managing the impact of the covid-19 pandemic that has allowed Vermont to lead the nation In our response, your ability and willingness to collaborate has enabled higher education and other industries in the state to work together with your team and with you directly to design and implement operating guidance that is rooted in public health and in care for our communities. Your consistency and unwavering, calm and honest guidance have influenced the approach that Middlebury has taken to manage our institution in the midst of the past year and a half to changing health conditions in the region and the state. Dr. Levine, your leadership has been instrumental in ensuring the health and safety of all Vermonters and provided a shining example for the rest of the nation to follow. It is therefore my privilege by virtue of the authority vested in me by the board of trustees of Middlebury, to confer upon you the degree of doctor of science onerous Kausar with all the rights, honors, privileges and responsibilities here and everywhere pertaining to this degree. Congratulations. I would now like to invite Nicole Curvin and Miguel Fernandez to come forward to present Curtiss Reed his honorary degree. President Patton, I have the honor to present for the degree of doctor of humane letters, Curtiss Reed. Curtiss Reed Jr., you are a leader who knows how to get others to follow. For 20 years, you have served as executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. From this position of leadership, you have provided the opportunity for hundreds of individuals and institutions throughout the state and the region to make Vermont a more desirable destination for all. You originally arrived in Vermont as a skier in a snowstorm and unexpectedly found the place you would choose to call home in the decades after your career took you around the world. And then you returned to Vermont in 2001 to help champion equity and inclusion in our increasingly diverse state. You are a consultant to the Vermont State Police and Vermont Public Radio and a leader in statewide programs that help all of us rethink what it means to belong in Vermont, including I am a Vermonter think tank for Vermont Leaders of color, the Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Initiative, and the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail, which you suggested to former Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin in 2010 and which includes 22 sites throughout the state, including Alexander Twilight Hall here at Middlebury. Curtiss, your work on behalf of all Vermonters has made this state a more inclusive and therefore a much better and more vibrant place for all of us to live, work, create and recreate. It is therefore my privilege by virtue of the authority vested in me by the board of trustees of Middlebury, to confer upon you the degree of doctor of humane letters, onerous Kausar, with all the rights, honors, privileges and responsibilities here and everywhere pertaining to this degree. Congratulations. I would now like to invite […] to come forward to present Anais Mitchell with her honorary degree. President Patton, I have the honor to present for the degree of doctor of Arts and Arts, Anais Mitchell. Anais Mitchell Vermonter, artist and alumni, you are the embodiment of the endless pathways to success that are possible for Middlebury graduates, a political science major. You began your recording career with the album Hymns of the Exiled, which you created in response to the U.S. political landscape in the early 2000s. It continued continued with the Brightness and the Country EP recorded on Righteous Babe records, the independent label begun by folk singer Ani DiFranco. But it was Hades’s town, your folk rock opera based on the Orpheus myth and first performed in Barre, Vermont in 2006. That changed the trajectory of your career. In 2010, you released the Hades’s Town Concept Album, which was nominated for a Grammy, and the stage production continued to evolve. The show’s debut at the New York Theater Workshop in 2016 was a hit, and after it gained international recognition from its productions in Alberta and London and it opened on Broadway in 2019. Your show, Hades’s Town, went on to be nominated for a record breaking 14 Tony Awards, winning eight, including Best Book of a musical and best original score. With Hades’s town you became the first woman in years to hold a sole Broadway credit. Anais Mitchell for all you have given to us both to the world we dream about and the one we live in. Now, as your lyrics state, we celebrate you. It is therefore my privilege by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Middlebury to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Arts onerous Kausar with all the rights, honors, privileges and responsibilities here and everywhere pertaining to this degree. Congratulations. Wow, thank you. It’s so great to be back here and never thought I would be wearing this hat again. It’s great to be back at Middlebury and also back in this particular room and on this stage that was so important to me during my time here. I was honored and I was so surprised to get a call from President Laurie Patton asking if I would speak to your class today, the graduating class of 2021. I knew that thing one was I had to say yes, yes, I will do it. And thing too was I had to not share with her all the reasons why I was maybe not the right person for the job. I think that I was caught by surprise because a lot of the time I, I forget that I’m not in my early 20s like you guys. I objectively I just turned 40 and I have by somehow putting one foot in front of the next for a couple of decades, achieved some kind of professional status. And I have a little family, including my husband, Noah, who is a fellow Middlebury graduate. So the hype is real around that. We have two little kids, they’re seven and one. And so by all outward appearances, I’m a grown up, I’m 40. But on the inside, you know, I spend a lot of the time feeling like I’m in my early 20s and it’s 2004. I’m sitting right where you’re sitting now and I’m listening to our commencement speaker whose name I had to look up because I am afraid I had no memory of the speech whatsoever. I was exhausted, as I’m sure you are. I was I was literally and emotionally hung over and I was focused on my own stuff. I was focused on my, um, my friends and my plans. So I won’t be surprised. I won’t be offended if you don’t remember anything that I say today. And when the president called me, I thought, oh, she doesn’t realize that I’m actually in my early 20s. So I’m probably not the right person for the job because what kind of advice would I have for your generation? I did not say that out loud. And so here I am. And there you are out there and we’re doing it. We’re doing this. I wonder how you guys are. I wonder how you are feeling, how this year has been like for you and and what it feels like to be entering the world of your adult dreams and schemes at this particular time in history. Um, I want to tell you what the year has been like for me. I was last spring, I was living in Brooklyn, New York, kind of in the afterglow of this musical that I’ve been working on for, you know, more than a decade, finally making it to Broadway. And I was nine months pregnant with our second baby when the pandemic started to heat up and feel like a real concern in New York. And so we made a difficult decision to leave. We packed everything in a rush. We drove to my parents farm in Vermont. I had the baby one week later. And then, like all of you, we were in the midst of this this extraordinary time, obviously, of suffering for so many people. And then on the other side of that coin, for so many folks, myself included, um, a time of healing because of the stillness that Nate spoke about, that that still moment that we’ve all been in. I haven’t stayed in one place for this long since I was at college here. We were staying in a little house that used to belong to my grandparents. And I found a big box of my old letters and highly embarrassing journals from high school. I read them. I burned some of them, I, I started talk therapy for the first time and I’ve done that in my life. I, I read the entire annotated lyrics of The Grateful Dead. We did a lot of hiking as a family. And one day I texted an old friend from high school and I said, what was the name of that little reservoir that we used to hang out at in high school? It was this place I couldn’t remember the name of, but it had a reservoir. And then these, um, these walking trails. And my friend said, oh, it’s called the watershed. And that’s what it’s called. It’s the Bristol watershed. So I went there with my family and I hiked around it and I had the baby strapped on my chest and I. Kept turning that word over in my mind, watershed and finding it very beautiful, um, watershed is in its literal sense, a dividing ridge that separates waters so that the rain falls and flows either to the side or that side of the ridge. And then, of course, in its metaphorical sense, we have these phrases, watershed moment and watershed event. Essentially a turning point, which might be personal in your life, might be historical in the world. And as I think is the case with your generation, sometimes both things are happening at once. The words spoke to me because last year I found myself multiple times saying I’m at a watershed in my life. Ultimately, we decided to not go back to New York. So I put behind me this whole area of my life in the city, my life, creative life that was defined for more than a decade by this one particular piece of work I was working on. And that’s behind me. And what’s coming next is still kind of coming into focus. So I feel like I’m at a little mountaintop right now, someone at a watershed in my life. And I’m speaking to you on your own little mountaintop out there, because you are all of you, at a watershed in your own lives, one of the most important ones. And I think most of our lives we spend in the woods, you know, we are have our heads down. We’re putting one foot in front the next. We’re meeting our deadlines, our obligations. We’re trying to keep up with our studies and our work and our friends and our family, but at these watershed moments, we get a brief glimpse of the big picture. And how far we’ve come and what lies ahead, and for a moment, we’re able to locate ourselves in the geography of our own life, our own lives. I want to say that. Based on my own experience, I don’t think that this exact moment of you wearing the cap and gown in front of everyone, your your professors, your parents are so proud of you, I don’t think that this is necessarily the moment when you get to have that big picture feeling. I’ve often noticed that for me, these these rituals of public recognition are the times when I feel the least present and the least able to actually grasp the significance of the moment. I told you about my own graduation day, which I have very little memory of delivering my Tony acceptance speech for Hades’s Town was like an out of body experience for me. And even when I think about my own wedding, I think of it as like this incredible party that I wasn’t entirely at. Um, so I have learned to not expect to find meaning at those moments when everyone is going, this is so meaningful, isn’t this meaningful for you? These rituals are so important, but mostly for other people. Your parents are seeing you in that cap and gown, your grandma seeing you in the white dress or the tux. It’s OK if you aren’t grasping the significance of the ritual right now because it’s much bigger than you. It’s it’s much bigger. But if it doesn’t happen today, I hope that you will find yourself some quiet time, some still time, some alone time when you can really stand on your own metaphorical mountaintop. Looking backwards at how far you’ve come, looking ahead to what what’s coming next and locate yourself in the geography of your own life before you’re back in the woods again, because you will be back in there soon. Um, and I hope you’ll allow yourself to dwell a while in your watershed moment because it has insights for you and also because to be real, we only get so many of them in a lifetime. Um, so I’m looking back at the path that I’ve been on since the day I was sitting where you are sitting to see if I do have any kind of wisdom for you. And there’s two ideas that seemed worth sharing. These come from my life as a creative artist, but I hope that they will apply to every discipline and even beyond any notions of achieving and doing. I hope that they apply just to life with a capital L. So the first thing. Is to create occasions for yourself to rise to about a year after I graduated from Middlebury, I was in the early days of a Singer-Songwriter career. I was in my pay your dues phase. So I was driving around in my car some impossible distance between these two gigs that I probably was playing for tips. I had a futon mattress in the back of my car in case I couldn’t find like a couch to sleep on. And I’m driving in the car. And this little song popped into my head and it seemed to be about the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. I started to get excited about this idea of writing a song cycle or a folk opera. And I reach out. I got a little grant, a little arts grant, which was enough money to rope in my earliest collaborators on the piece and also to book the theaters that we performed this show at the first year that we did it. And what I want you to understand is that. I basically booked these theaters and I put tickets on sale and I started promoting this show that was entirely unfinished, it was like you could probably count on one hand the number of songs I had written for it. When I look back on that, the confidence is staggering. I would never do that now, but I don’t think that it could have happened any other way. I had to create an occasion for myself to rise to. I realize that this is a cliche, this idea of you leap and the net will appear. If you build it, they will come fake it till you make it just for the job you want. All of those things are cliches and they’re cliches because they’re true. There’s truth in them. And I believe that they’re especially true for you in your early 20s. Early 20s is a time of genius. At the risk of sounding condescending, I think it’s because in your early 20s, you’re like the roadrunner in the cartoon that runs off the cliff and is somehow able to keep running on thin air because you haven’t looked down yet. So there’s there’s extraordinary power. You have access to superpowers in your early 20s that you might have a harder time accessing later in your life. So I’m jealous of you mostly, though. I’m excited for you. And my first piece of advice is to create occasions for yourself, to rise to and don’t look down. And my second piece of advice is for the moment, when you do look down because you will and like the roadrunner in the cartoon, you will fall off of the metaphorical cliff. So my second piece of advice is to understand failure to be an essential part of mastery. I did the Middlebury Summer language program in Arabic in 2003 and a professor said something that made a big impression on me. I’ve never forgotten it. He said that a lot of times students are so frustrated and upset when they learn a new word in a foreign language and then they forget it, but that they had to understand that the process of forgetting the word and then getting frustrated and then learning it again was an essential part of them mastering that word. There will be occasions created by you or created by others that you just can’t rise to in the way that you want to. I remember so many instances of being given opportunities as a young performer that I that I wasn’t ready for. And usually it was like I got to open up for some big artists on some big stage that would really trigger my stage fright. And I would spend the whole set kind of spiraling in my head and then feel embarrassed and wish I could have done it better. But the next time that I was on a stage like that, it was one percent easier. And so I believe that being presented with opportunities you’re not ready for and saying yes and then feeling inadequate is an essential part of you actually being ready for the next opportunity. So in 20 years, when the president of Middlebury calls you and asks you to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2041, thing number one say yes, thing number two, do not share out loud the reasons why you’re maybe not the right person for the job. Try to take this mantra with you into every situation. Yes, you belong here. Yes, you’re the right person for this job. And even if you fall short of your own or others expectations, you still belong. You’re still on the right path. And this failure is an essential part of you coming into your own mastery. Just one more thought that I wanted to share is that I’m mindful that I’m speaking to a rare generation who is not only at a personal watershed, but also a historical one. Um, your lives and the world that you’re entering have been changed forever by this watershed event of the pandemic. There was a very different watershed event for my generation. During my time at Middlebury. I was a sophomore. I just come back to campus for the fall semester and I was in an early morning class. It was an intro to acting class and the professor said something has happened in New York. We’re going to go ahead and just have the class anyway. So we did. We had the class and nobody had a smartphone or even a dumb phone in those days. So when the class was over, we all went to Proctor Lounge where there was a television that was always on and the lounge was just jammed full of students all watching on TV as one of the World Trade Towers collapsed right before our eyes on television. And in the midst of that traumatic event, there was also this incredible sense of togetherness. Um, I never felt more connected to my fellow students and to my generation than I did in that lounge. And I think there was a way in which for a moment we were locating ourselves as a generation in the geography of human history. Um, my boyfriend at the time was now my husband, Noah had recently graduated from Middlebury and he was visiting me at the time. He was meant to drive home to Long Island. But all the bridges of New York were closed temporarily. So I’ll never forget this. We pulled a mattress onto the roof of the mill. The mill was and apparently still is a social house for four social misfits. And I was not a member myself, but Noah was. And we pulled a mattress onto the roof of the mill and we slept out there on September 11th, under the clear sky full of stars. There was someone playing saxophone in the dark down below us in the streets. And I won’t forget it because it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. And I made some major life decisions kind of in my heart right then and there, which I don’t have time to go into in this speech. But the point is that these historical watershed events, as traumatic as they can be, they also offer us the glimpse of the big picture. You can locate your generation in the geography of human history. And in the case of this pandemic, I think your generation has seen the physical outlines of something that has mostly just floated in the in the realm of ideas, which is that the whole of human society and the whole planet really, if you view it from a certain distance, is just one organism with an immune system. And and what happens when that immune system is compromised? A personal watershed moment comes with insight that will change your life. And a historical watershed moment comes with insight that will change the world. And you’re a rare generation because you have access to all of that insight at once. So I can’t wait to see what you will do with your moment. And I’m going to leave you with a little song, uh, the lyrics of a song anyway, that I wrote last year. I’m going to sing it a cappella. When I wrote the song, my first thought was, man, I hope that an a cappella group somewhere at some college will perform the song at a graduation and couldn’t happen this year because of covid. But I’m going to sing it myself. And it’s the song is called Watershed. Surprise, Surprise. And it goes like this. Nobody gives you a map of the ridge, you climb one mountain and you find the next. Follow the river to The Fountainhead watershed. The tallest summit you look up to some day, it’s going to look small to you, there’s a new one coming into view and you climb there, too. But before you do, you get time to stand looking off the ledge where the rivers bridge to the east and the west and to catch your breath at the sight of it, how the heights on which your heart was set, that you went so hard and then lost so fast and now somehow just silhouettes. You stop and bend in the light that’s left and you keep your hands in the riverbed. Watershed, watershed, watershed Watershed, watershed Watershed, watershed. And then you keep climbing step by step, by the grace of God and by your own sweat and tears that you won’t forget, but you will forgive if you haven’t yet, because they carve the path that you had to tread and they’ll do it again for the path ahead. And the heaven you seek is not separate from the heart that speaks when your cheeks are wet. Watershed, watershed, watershed, watershed Watershed, watershed, watershed Watershed. Nobody gave you a map of the ridge, you climbed one mountain and you found the next, you follow the river to the fountain head. Congratulations, class of 2021. That was beautiful, Anais, thank you so much and thank you for saying yes when President Patton called. We’re glad you came. Hi, my name is Jeff Cason, I’m the provost and a professor of political science, and President Patton is about to begin the conferral of bachelor’s degrees. Now, in a moment, I will ask the senior class out there to rise, President Patton will present you with a degree of Bachelor of Arts. When you rise, please put on your mortarboards with the tassel on the right side. After President Patton has completed the statement to confer the degree, all of you together move the tassell from the right side to the left, signifying that you have attained the BA degree. And now. Will all the candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts please rise? People are standing up at six different places. President Patton, on behalf of the faculty at Middlebury College, I have the high privilege of presenting to you the candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts, the members of the Middlebury College class of 2021. All of you out there now and as much as each of you presented to me, has completed the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts, I have the honor by virtue of the authority vested in me by the trustees of Middlebury to confer upon you the degree of Bachelor of Arts with all the rights, honors, privileges and responsibilities here and everywhere pertaining to this degree. Congratulations to the class of 2021. I have to assume things have been thrown graduates, you may be seated in a few moments, you’ll be called up individually in your seating area to receive your replica of Gamelial Painter’s cane and your diploma case. Since many of you turned in your final paper or had your last exam just yesterday or the day before, your diplomas are not ready just yet and will be mailed to you next month. But before we turn the ceremony over to the graduate seating areas, we have just a few more people to recognize. It has become our custom to also present canes to faculty members who were awarded tenure in the academic year signifying their honorary membership in this year’s class. The faculty members will receive their canes along with the students in the graduate seating areas. But I want to acknowledge all of them now. The following faculty members received tenure this year. Carrie Anderson in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Tanya Byker in economics, Ananya Chrisman in Computer Science, David Miranda Hardy in film and media culture, and Rebecca Mitchell in history. And. Those receiving tenure last year who were unable to receive their canes due to the pandemic. David Allen in Biology, Christopher Andrews and computer science, Brandon Baird in Lusso Hispanic studies Alack Glickman in physics. Robert Mueller in psychology. Clarissa Parker in psychology and neuroscience, Nicholas Popi in Lusso Hispanic Studies. Aaron Sason in the history of art and architecture. And A.J. Vassiliou in chemistry and biochemistry. Congratulations to you all. And the college would also like to recognize the following faculty members who will be retiring at the end of this academic year. […] Feron of the Department of Theater and the Program in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies and David Price in English and American Literatures and. Those who retired last year who were also unable to be recognized due to the pandemic. Tom Baker in Russian, Sun-he Choi in chemistry, Jeff Dunham in physics, Bill Hart in history, Brigitta, Imbert in French and Francophone Studies, Pat Manley in Geology, Tom Manley in geology, Paula Schwartz in French, French and Francophone studies. And Sally Sheldon in biology. Congratulations to all those retiring faculty as well. Now, in a moment, we will turn our ceremony over to the six satellite seating locations to recognize each graduate individually. On behalf of President Patton, I will take a moment now to acknowledge each department and program. At the South Street field, American studies, anthropology, Arabic, biology, black studies, chemistry and biochemistry, Chinese, classical studies, classics and computer science at Kirk Alumni Center, comparative literature, dance, economics and education Studies on the Voter lawn English and American Literatures. Environmental Studies. Film and Media Culture. French and Francophone Studies. Gender, Sexuality and feminist studies. Geography, Geology, German and the history of Art and architecture. On Battell Beach. History. The Independent Scholars, International and Global Studies. International politics and economics. Italian Japanese studies, literary studies and Lusso Hispanic studies. At Youngman Field, at Alumni Stadium Mathematics. Molecular biology and biochemistry, music, neuroscience, philosophy and physics, and finally at Kohnfield, political science, psychology, religion, Russian sociology, studio, art and theater. Again, congratulations. And now Mark Horton, dean of spiritual and religious life, will lead the benediction. Following the benediction and to close our plenary ceremony today, please watch, listen and join as the Middlebury College Choir again under the direction of Professor Bittner sings the alma mater. You will find the lyrics on page 17 of the program. And now please raise. As we transition ceremonially into this auxiliary stage of these proceedings and celebrate the handing over of diploma cases and canes, indulge this benediction and let the good word benediction remain and dwell with you. As you go into all the moments of your lives, let this celebratory commencement be forever in your memory as a reminder and a blessing. A cocoon moment. A shedding moment, indeed, a watershedding moment, a letting go opening toward the Wingard Beyond Awakening. Awakening. Awakening. Fly. Soar. Be. Amen […] […]

Video Recording of Ceremonies

Find ceremony locations and departments below, or view the list of graduates by department.

Alumni Stadium
Watch video recording

Mathematics | Molecular Biology and Biochemistry | Music | Neuroscience | Philosophy | Physics

Battell Beach
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History | Independent Scholar | International and Global Studies–East Asian Studies | International and Global Studies–European Studies | International and Global Studies–Global Gender and Sexuality Studies | International and Global Studies–Global Security | International and Global Studies–Latin American Studies | International and Global Studies–Middle East and North Africa Studies | International and Global Studies–Russian and East European Studies | International Politics and Economics | Italian | Japanese Studies | Literary Studies | Luso-Hispanic Studies

Central College Voter Lawn
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English and American Literatures | Environmental Studies | Film and Media Culture | French and Francophone Studies | Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies | Geography | Geology | German | History of Art and Architecture | History of Art and Architecture–Architectural Studies | History of Art and Architecture–History of Art

Golf Course Driving Range
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Comparative Literature | Dance | Economics | Education Studies

Kohn Field
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Political Science | Psychology | Religion | Russian | Sociology | Studio Art | Theatre

South Street Field
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American Studies | Anthropology | Arabic | Biology | Black Studies | Chemistry and Biochemistry | Chinese | Classical Studies | Classics | Computer Science

Order of Ceremony

PROCESSIONAL

NATIONAL ANTHEM

WELCOME
President Laurie L. Patton

LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND INVOCATION
Mark R. Orten
Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and Director, Scott Center

STUDENT COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER
Nathan Gunesch ’21

CONFERRING OF HONORARY DEGREES
President Laurie L. Patton

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
Anaïs Mitchell ’04

CONFERRING OF DEGREES
President Laurie L. Patton

BENEDICTION
Mark R. Orten

ALMA MATER

INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION OF GRADUATES
By department and program at satellite sites.

GAMALIEL PAINTER’S CANE

RECESSIONAL
Guests are expected to remain in their seats during the recessional.

#MiddGrad21

Photos and memories have been posted to celebrate our graduates! All content is moderated. Read full Social Media Guidelines. Share your photos during the May 29 ceremony. Text photos of your graduate to 1-618-238-2757 and please include their name.

Award Recipients

Award recipients are determined when final grades are available after June 7. We anticipate award certificates and payments will be processed and mailed by the end of June.