Led by the resonant tones of bagpipes, 42 new graduates of the Middlebury Institute made their way across campus to the Irvine Auditorium on a sunny December afternoon to be celebrated by family, friends, faculty and staff at Winter Commencement 2023.
“It’s been a really fulfilling journey,” said international trade graduate MacKenzie Van Meter MAITED ’23. “I did about two-thirds of my program virtually, from Paris, which presented its own challenges. I learned a lot about tenacity and being flexible. Getting the chance to be on campus in person and getting to engage with the community in really beautiful ways has been so rewarding.”
The Commencement ceremony featured remarks by Middlebury College President Laurie Patton, 2023 Faculty Excellence Award winner Professor Scott Pulizzi MAIPS ’97, and graduating student Julian Hernandez-Webster MPA/MAIPD ’23. Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson emceed the program. The Winter 2023 class included students from eight homelands: China, Japan, Nepal, the Netherlands, Republic of Georgia, Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
“Consider the person in front of you. Whether it is a co-worker, a friend, or [a stranger], be kind to them. You don’t know what they’re going through.”
Prior to joining the Institute faculty, Pulizzi built a successful 25-year career in international development, working with United Nations agencies, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses in dozens of countries.
After saluting the resilience, courage, and determination of his fellow graduates, student speaker Hernandez-Webster lauded “the true value of this incredible MIIS community… the faculty and staff care so deeply about each of us students. They are invested in our growth and success not only as professionals but as individuals, to a degree that I have rarely experienced. And the student body—my classmates and friends—are some of the most compassionate and inspiring people I have come across.”
Complimenting the “solution-focused energy” of Institute students, Patton said “What I have seen consistently in Monterey students is fire—a spark that burns brighter in the face of challenges… You share something fundamental: you are willing to transform and to be transformed, to evolve your ideas and approaches and focus in pursuit of the public good.”
Traditions Old and New: Bagpipes, Land Acknowledgement, and Lasting Bonds
As he has done for two decades, Professor Mike Gillen led the Commencement procession while playing bagpipes in full Scottish regalia, followed by marchers carrying the flags of the homelands represented in the graduating class.
Opening the ceremony, Dayton-Johnson spoke of the challenges and opportunities presented by artificial intelligence (AI), suggesting that Institute graduates are well-positioned to flourish in this new environment, where they will be called on to offer insights complementary to AI.
“When it comes to your education, what you learn is important, but arguably how you learn is even more important. And over the past couple of years you have learned how to be better learners.”
The ceremony opened with the land acknowledgment recently adopted for major campus events. Institutional Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nicholas Creary read the statement acknowledging that the Institute is located on the ancestral land of the Ohlone (Costanoan) Rumsen/Rumsien people, which several contemporary tribes, including Esselen, call home today. “We honor these groups’ experiences in the past, present, and future, as we work collaboratively with them to protect the land and its inhabitants… We give thanks for the opportunity to respectfully share in the bounty of this place.”
Speaking directly to the graduates, Pulizzi noted that “You bring curiosity and drive to MIIS. My colleagues and I cannot teach you this. We can aim to build your knowledge and develop your skills and instill a growth mindset so that you can best use your curiosity and drive to effect change. Know that we, the MIIS community, believe in you.”
Moments later, Hernandez-Webster sounded a similar theme: “As agents of change, we must be unwavering in our pursuit of a more equitable world and have the grit to continue pushing even when we are tired and disheartened. The key lies in human connection… remember to stay in touch with the friends you have made at MIIS. These bonds will last forever if we take care of them.”