They started their journey at the Middlebury Institute under the cloud of the pandemic, but finished as the sun broke through to kick off Spring Commencement 2023.
Saturday’s Commencement ceremony honored the academic accomplishments of 284 students from 33 homelands—from Afghanistan to Zambia—as family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni gathered on the lawn in front of historic Colton Hall in downtown Monterey. The graduates and guests heard inspirational messages from keynote speaker Dr. Uki Maroshek-Klarman, student speaker Oussama Bel Aiba, Middlebury President Laurie Patton, and Middlebury Institute Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeff Dayton-Johnson.
“If you want a different world, be that change,” said Dr. Maroshek-Klarman, executive director of the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace in Jerusalem, which promotes mutual respect, tolerance, and coexistence across religions, ethnicities, and nationalities. Sharing the precepts that have guided her work for three decades, she encouraged the graduates to “Maintain a critical eye even towards concepts you use… Reach for creativity… (and) do your part to preserve and conserve the principles of freedom, solidarity and equality.”
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson highlighted a string of achievements inside and outside the classroom.
“You illustrate, again and again, that change is possible, that hard work can translate into impact,” said Dayton-Johnson. “You are part of a community—part of the MIIS Class of 2023, and part of the worldwide community of MIIS alumni—and I invite you to draw inspiration and solidarity from that community just as I do every day.”
“Kathi joined the faculty in the fall semester of 1981,” he noted, “which means that she has served MIIS for 41 years, and inspired 41 cohorts of TESOL and TFL students, who magnify her impact every day all around the world.”
The Imperative for Empathy
Elected by his classmates, student speaker Oussama Bel Aiba MATLM ’23 cited critical thinking, teamwork, and the ability to keep an open mind as key takeaways from his time in Monterey, along with management and technical skills, and perhaps most importantly, empathy. As a gay teenager growing up in a conservative society, Tunisian native Bel Aiba experienced feelings of isolation.
“Lend a hand to everybody who’s in need. Listen to them, give them a hug, tell them: I see you, I feel you, and your feelings are valid. I am here for you…,” said the Translation and Localization Management graduate. ”Without empathy, our respective industries will not be successful. Without diversity, equity, and inclusion, we will perpetuate errors from the past. I truly believe it is our responsibility to make a difference.”
“The Institute is a place that seeks understanding and celebrates difference,” said Middlebury President Laurie Patton, who called the graduates “dreamers and visionaries who have found ways to challenge yourselves to act effectively in the most challenging circumstances, bridging perspectives rooted in different language and cultures, perspectives and ambitions, all towards a shared goal of advancing a more peaceful and just world.”
A Mix of Innovation and Tradition
During the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, when only virtual Commencement ceremonies were held, all graduating students were promised the opportunity to walk at a future in-person Commencement ceremony of their choice. On Saturday, May 2021 Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies graduate Michael L. Danahy joined to walk with the class of 2023.
On a more traditional note, Professor Mike Gillen and his bagpipes once again led the procession of graduates through campus to Colton Hall lawn, followed by flag-bearers proudly displaying the flags of each homeland represented in the graduating class. In another nod to tradition, the ceremony was interpreted into both French and Chinese by Institute students.
“Go forth and seize the day. May the skies and your future shine brightly,” said Dr. Maroshek-Klarman to close her remarks.
Perfect words for a day on which the sun broke through the clouds and made that wish come true.
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.