| by Jason Warburg

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Richards, Shorna-Kay
This year’s Commencement speaker was Shorna-Kay Richards, Jamaica’s ambassador to Japan. At the ceremony, she received an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of her work as a diplomat and disarmament advocate.  (Credit: Rob Ellis )

“You possess the power to change, to disrupt the status quo for the betterment of humanity,” Ambassador Shorna-Kay Richards told the graduates at Middlebury Institute’s spring Commencement.

She is leading by example. Ambassador Richards is currently serving as the Jamaican ambassador to Japan and as the chair of the UN Secretary-General’s advisory board on disarmament matters, as well as the chair of the Board of Trustees of the UN Disarmament Research Institute. She was a key advocate in securing the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017—a historic accomplishment given the opposition of nuclear weapons states. Smaller nations like Jamaica exerted an outsized influence in the process. She previously served as vice-chair of the United Nations Disarmament Commission and also served as a lead negotiator for the United Nations Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

In addition to serving as the keynote speaker at Commencement, Ambassador Richards received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Middlebury during the ceremony.

“I am still in shock and deeply humbled by this recognition at the global level,” Ambassador Richards told the Jamaica Observer recently. “I see this honor as one in a representative capacity—one that recognizes my country and the Jamaican Foreign Service of which I have been privileged to be a member for the past 30 years.”

commencement 2024 MIIS
Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Steve Snyder presented Ambassador Shorna-Kay Richards with a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Middlebury at the spring 2024 Commencement ceremony at the Middlebury Institute in Monterey.

In the citation read during the presentation of the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, to Ambassador Richards, Middlebury noted the following:

“During your years at the UN, you were one of few female diplomats from the Global South speaking on the issue of nuclear weapons. You used your expertise in bilateral and multilateral affairs to advance global safety and security. You played a key role in reforming the UN Security Council… . We celebrate your contributions to diplomacy, disarmament, nonproliferation, the promotion of peace, and the pursuit of a more just world.”

Between 2012 and 2016, Ambassador Richards served as Jamaica’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. Her other postings have included the Jamaican High Commission in South Africa (2009–2012), the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. (1998–2001), and the Jamaican Embassy in Washington, D.C. (2003–2004).

Ambassador Richards holds a master’s degree in international policy and practice from the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. She earned her BA from the University of the West Indies. In 2005, she was a UN Disarmament Fellow, a role that saw her participate in training delivered by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute.

Ambassador Shorna-Kay Richards closed her remarks to the 2024 graduates by invoking the words of a famous Jamaican—Bob Marley.

Ambassador Richards leads graduates in singing “One Love.”


In her remarks, Richards exhorted the graduates to follow the advice of her countryman Marley to “get up, stand up” for humanity. She suggested three guiding principles based on her own experience: take responsibility; use your agency; and embrace solidarity and intercultural collaboration. To close her speech, she led the crowd in a chorus of Marley’s anthem “One Love.”