| by Jason Warburg

News Stories

Winter 2021 graduates
Winter 2021 graduates line up for the in-person Commencement ceremony. (Credit: Olivia Cable-Barber)

Family and friends in Monterey and around the world celebrated the accomplishments of 65 Middlebury Institute graduates in a winter Commencement ceremony on Saturday, December 18, that was as joyous as it was unprecedented.

For the first time in its 66-year history, the Institute’s Commencement ceremony was a hybrid event conducted both in person in the Institute’s Irvine Auditorium and via Zoom, with family members, some graduates, and even Middlebury President Laurie Patton “zooming” in from around the globe to take part in the celebration.

The graduates, including students from China, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Rwanda, and the U.S., were led in the traditional processional by bagpiper and professor Mike Gillen. After being seated to warm applause, they heard first from Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson, who acknowledged the uniqueness of this moment in history and how the need to move the Institute’s entire academic curriculum online for more than a year shaped the graduates’ student experience. “You met this challenge with aplomb and dedication. In completing your degrees, which we celebrate today, you developed your resilience and your capacity for adaptation.”  

In her remarks over Zoom to the graduates and their loved ones, Middlebury President Laurie Patton spoke of the inspiration she took from holding outdoor “walking meetings” with students during a November visit to Monterey. “You shared your dreams and brought me creative solutions not only about our campus and our programs, but about the world.” Looking to the future, she added that “we will watch you with hope and support and gratitude for the world you are creating. Congratulations—we could not be prouder.”


Winter 2021 graduation procession
Professor Mike Gillen (far right) leads the traditional procession with members of the Institute community carrying the country flags of the graduating students. (Credit: Olivia Cable-Barber)

Excellence in Teaching Award winner Professor Philipp Bleek addressed the graduates next, offering them three bits of advice: to practice active listening, to lean into discomfort rather than avoiding it, and to be a better friend to themselves as well as others. He also commented on the unique circumstances they had all experienced, noting, “In rising to the challenges of the pandemic, I’m guessing a lot of you discovered resilience inside yourselves that you didn’t realize you had.… While your academic experience was different than you expected, and challenging in a host of ways, I’m guessing it was also wonderful in unexpected ways.”

Student speaker and MA in International Education Management student Hsinyun “Kiki” Shen MAIEM ’21 agreed, telling her classmates, “We are proof of the resilience that humanity has that enables us to thrive even in situations that turn our worlds upside-down.” She implored her fellow graduates to “remember these years of uncertainty, and your courage and perseverance. Remember your mentors… remember the community that sustained us… and remember that we are heading into the world as educators, changers, policy makers, and leaders, to be a part of a community that builds bridges, not walls, and that creates a more just world for future generations to come.… Just as the word ‘commencement’ implies, this is our beginning.”

Students in the Institute’s MA in Translation and Interpretation program provided interpretation of the event into Japanese and Spanish for both in-person and online family members and friends of the graduates. The ceremony in the Irvine Auditorium was followed by a reception on the Samson Student Center patio under seasonably cool but sunny skies, offering a satisfying conclusion to a creative adaptation of one of the Institute’s long-standing traditions.