by Eva Gudbergsdottir

Mike Gillen bagpipes
Professor Mike Gillen playing his bagpipes in front of the flags representing the nationalities of spring 2020 Middlebury Institute graduates. (Credit: Mark Basse )

The end of a semester at the Middlebury Institute is always a time to celebrate achievements; final project submissions, reflections on lessons learned, client project presentatations, social events, and of course, the commencement and conferring of degrees. The spirit of those celebrations remained the same this spring, even if gatherings took on a different shape than usual.

One of the hallmarks of the Middlebury Institute education is to prepare students to respond to an unpredictable world, dealing with some of the most challenging issues of our time; facilitating communications across cultures, removing barriers to peace-building, development, and trade, and crafting effective policy solutions to issues related to disarmament, counter-terrrorism, and sustainability. The global pandemic clearly falls under the definition of an unprecedented challenge, and this spring semester the MIIS community rose to it, finding meaningful and enjoyable ways to celebrate the end of a very unusual year, even starting some new traditions that are bound to continue in the future.

Lavender graduation 2020 screenshot virtual event
From the 2020 Lavender Graduation

Affinity groups, departments, and several faculty members organized a variety of virtual celebrations in the last weeks of the semester leading up to Spring Commencement on May 16. The first Lavender Graduation, hosted by the Queers and Allies at MIIS (QAAAM) student club was a very memorable and intimate interactive virtual event that is sure to be the start of a beautiful campus tradition. Faculty shared tips about how to make virtual receptions more interactive . In one instance, and idea shared by the International Education Management team led the the Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies faculty to create their own set of joke awards for the graduating class. “Everybody got a good laugh,” shares Connor Michelotti MANPTS/MGIMO ’20, adding that in his opinion it went off without a hitch. “I hope this becomes tradition!”


Team Tandem VI Symposium

Mariachi Hermanos Muratalla performing as part of the Team Tandem VI Symposium.

Among faculty who this semester had to totally reimagine a course designed around high levels of personal interactions is Professor Gabriel Guillen who teaches a tandem language course where Spanish learners from the Institute pair up with native-Spanish speakers in neighboring Salinas who are English learners. Due to the pandemic, students communicated through other methods that were available to them, such as WhatsApp, Zoom and regular telephone calls. The final research projects, presented at the Team Tandem VI Symposium in early May included a Mariachi concert, eighteen presentations in the two languages, interpersonal trivia, and a graduation ceremony with personal messages to each of the participants. “And all in a little more than 2 hours,” Guillen shares. “¡Sí se puede!”

I hope that you live your life, each precious day of it, with joy and meaning.
— Rui (Rae) Xue MATI '20

As it turns out, the Middlebury Institute community certainly can and will make the most of the situation at hand. The Virtual 2020 Spring Commencement kept many of the most beloved traditions of the in-person event, with inspiring speeches from Commencement speaker George Lee, and elected student speaker Rui (Rae) Xue MATI ’20, and created some new ones, such as video features from the Alumni Achievement Award winners, and personal messages to the graduating class from faculty. As Xue said after wishing her classmates good luck with the future ahead, “I hope that you live your life, each precious day of it, with joy and meaning.”

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Eva Gudbergsdottir