Celebrating togetherness in the midst of a season of change, on Saturday, May 21, 259 new graduates of the Middlebury Institute reveled in the school’s first in-person spring Commencement since May 2019, honoring graduates from 20 countries.
Returning to its traditional home, spring Commencement 2022 was hosted on Colton Hall lawn in downtown Monterey and featured a keynote address from Fatema Z. Sumar, the former vice president of compact operations at the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), as well as remarks from student speaker Meng Zhang MAT ’22, Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson, and Middlebury president Laurie L. Patton.
“The MIIS degree you are going to receive represents a social contract between you and the world. Think about that term—a social contract, a theory that become popular from the 16th to 18th centuries by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau as a way to explain the origins of government and the obligations of its subjects. A social contract is what binds citizens to a community, to a state. It is an expectation of roles and responsibilities,” said Sumar, who until recently oversaw the MCC’s grant program aimed at reducing poverty by supporting economic growth.
Her background includes serving as the vice president of global programs at Oxfam America, as MCC’s deputy vice president for Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America, and as deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State. “I want to challenge you to accept a new social contract—one between you and the world. The world is asking you—in fact, it’s begging you—to step up and lead in exchange for offering you pathways and positions to power and privilege. Because make no mistake, with this degree, you are now a person of privilege. Whether you were born with it or not, by being part of this community, you now have it. The simple question remains—what will you do with your privilege?”
Zhang, who received her MA in Translation, said, “The world we are embracing is a different one than the one two years ago when we entered MIIS. It will keep changing. Steve Jobs said, ‘The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.’”
Born and raised in China, she previously earned an MBA from Rutgers University and has more than two decades’ experience as a business consultant. While a first-year student, she and a classmate cofounded Translators for Elders, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization helping thousands of underprivileged families overcome language barriers. “Class of 2022—colleagues who will be interpreters, translators, project managers, teachers, and policy developers—no matter what you do, I wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors in changing the world for better, because MIIS has taught you how.”
In her address to the graduates, Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton also spoke of the journey they would be taking, noting that the challenges they will face will require a measure of idealism in their approach to tackling the most pressing issues of the day. “Idealism is necessary in times of tumult. It is particularly necessary when facing, head on, issues of safety and security, and human rights, and the planet’s survival. Idealism, yours and mine, is what will empower us, what keeps us going, when the problems before us, the changes that need to happen, seem insurmountable.
“That is part of what has made the Institute such a powerful place for you to learn—because rather than quelling idealism, this is a place where idealism is fostered.”
Middlebury Institute dean Jeff Dayton-Johnson also noted how quickly and often the world had changed for the Class of 2022 during their time as graduate students, commending the graduates’ resolve and creativity in the face of historic challenges, both locally and globally.
“You are already facing this concentration of changes—understanding change, addressing it, getting out ahead of it. [You are] amplifying and spreading the positive changes, while mitigating, adapting to, and counteracting noxious changes … I am so glad that you were among us, that you learned from us and we from you. And I am awed by the possibilities of what you will yet achieve.”
Graduates from the spring 2020, winter 2020, and spring 2021 classes who were unable to enjoy in-person celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic were also invited to participate in this or another future in-person Commencement ceremony of their choice, with at least 12 attending Saturday’s ceremony. Students from the Institute’s MA in Translation and Interpretation program provided interpretation into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Korean for family members and friends of our graduating students, and the Institute welcomed graduates and their loved ones afterward for a reception on the patio of the Samson Student Center.
An unprecedented hybrid Commencement ceremony connected graduates, family, and friends around the globe with a gathering honoring 65 graduating students in the Middlebury Institute’s Irvine Auditorium.
The Middlebury Institute’s annual Washington, D.C.-focused Career Exploration Week offers students the opportunity to interact with alumni and others responsible for hiring at prospective government, non-profit, and private sector employers in their fields.