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Members of the Class of 2019 walk in the procession to Commencement grounds on the main quad.

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Class of 2019 Celebrates Commencement

May 26, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – The members of the Class of 2019, honored guests, family members, and friends enjoyed a quintessential spring morning in the rolling hills of Vermont as Middlebury College bid adieu to the 537 soon-to-be graduates at Commencement on May 26.

President Laurie L. Patton welcomed more than 3,000 people gathered on the quadrangle between Old Chapel and Mead Chapel.

It was a Commencement that began with temperatures in the low 60s and ended with the mercury topping out at 75, prompting College staff members to pass out hundreds of bottles of water to the graduates sitting together in their black robes and mortarboards.

Patton announced that the graduates decided that their class gift would not be a scholarship or a grove of trees, but rather a fund to assist Middlebury College staff members in financial distress. Called “The Fund for Staff Support,” the Class of 2019 raised $16,864.54 (and counting) and achieved more than 50 percent participation for its purpose.

Graduating senior Kahari Choike Blue ’19 offered a spirited version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and classmate Angie McCarthy ’19 gave a student speech filled with reflection, insight, and humor, some of which only her classmates could fully grasp.

The joint geography and environmental studies major shared the words of advice her brother gave her four years ago when she started college, that “proximity was everything. I just had to get a little closer.” That brotherly counsel served her well, she explained, “on student leadership panels, at a capella concerts, and during intramural soccer games and Quidditch matches.”

McCarthy shifted to “how we define a life of consequence shows what we think has consequence” and said, “You do not have to have a parking spot with your name on it to be great. It starts with learning “Proctor lady’s” name – it’s Crysta – and treating her with dignity, and it continues with you knowing that if you make six figures, then you can probably tip your server more than five percent.”

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The College’s first Global Citizen’s Award was presented to Adul Samon, who, along with 12 other young soccer players and their coach, were trapped for two weeks in 2018 in a cave in northern Thailand. While the world waited to learn the fate of the boys, Adul’s linguistic proficiency in English, Mandarin, Burmese, and Thai, enabled him to communicate with his rescuers, asking questions and helping translate for his coach and his friends.

“He used his language ability to help save lives,” President Patton remarked, “and he is a MiddKid through and through.” Middlebury is forging an academic partnership with Adul’s Baan Wiang Phan School, and will send two interns to Thailand this coming summer as part of the arrangement. The College will present the Global Citizen’s Award annually, Patton said.

President Laurie Patton presented the inaugural Global Citizen's Award to Adul Samon, one of 12 Thai youth who were rescued from a cave in 2018. Samon's knowledge of multiple languages played a key role in translating for both the rescuers and his teammates.

The Commencement Address was delivered by Krista Tippett – broadcaster, author, and host of the acclaimed public radio program “On Being.”

Tippett spoke of the “hazard and the bounty of what it means to be human” and said that “our ecological future depends ultimately on human behavior,” “our racial future rests as much on the formation of better lives as on the creation of better laws,” and how “the Internet is not inventing these problems” but rather that “it is implicated in all of them because it is a canvas for the old human condition, with a power to magnify every dream and every hurt and put them up for the whole world to see.”

The Internet “has given a new kind of public face to our magnanimity and to the primal, trollish margins of our psyches. It draws us inward and outward, often in the same experience, and so is bringing us back full circle to the challenge of being and becoming.” And so the guest speaker proposed “three callings” for the lives of the graduates and for our time.

Her first was: have a moral imagination. “How to muster a shared vocabulary of undergirding truths, of an underlying humanity, is an urgent question in the middle of our life together,” she said. “How to orient together towards what matters and measure what matters in human terms deserves the same magnitude of disruptive, imaginative energy and investment that powers our other forms of enterprise and our wondrous data-generating technologies.”

Author, journalist, and public radio broadcaster Krista Tippett gave the 2019 Commencement address.

Tippett’s second was: wholeness, which she defined as “the organic interplay between our bodies, the natural world, the lives we make, the world we create.” And despite the power of digital technologies “to divide and isolate us,” the same technologies “have given us the tools for the first time in the history of our species to begin to think and act as a species.”

Her third “calling” for the Class of 2019 is to “figure out how love might work in the world you are making.” Said Tippett, “Love is a word used sparingly in our public places. It is invoked in politics, when it is invoked, as a balm to crisis, not an avenue beyond it. But we are the generation of humans learning to shine a light on hate, to take it seriously in legal and political terms, to call it out.

“In my mind, this becomes an opening and imperative to summon the same seriousness about love in our life together,” Tippett explained. “Love is the most reliable muscle of human transformation, the most reliable muscle of human wholeness.”

Tippett was one of five distinguished guests to receive an honorary doctorate from Middlebury at Commencement, and hers was a Doctor of Letters. The others were:

Judith Heumann, a lifelong champion for the rights of disabled persons and for their empowerment, an Honorary Doctor of Education;

Jane Mayer, author, investigative journalist, and New Yorker staff writer, an Honorary Doctor of Letters;

David Mittelman ’76 (awarded posthumously), a member of the Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2017 who established a professorship in physics at Middlebury and was a generous and ardent supporter of astronomy at his alma mater, Honorary Doctor of Science; and

Chief Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in Vermont, an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

By Robert Keren; Photos by Todd Balfour and Brett Simison