Sylvia Earle, the internationally known sea-explorer and champion for the world's ocean, addressed Saint Michael's College's 107th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 11 in Ross Sports Center. Earle ultimately struck an optimistic note in her message to 2014 graduates about their power to offer hope and take actions that might preserve our planet for future generations.
The National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and world-renowned oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer, nicknamed "Her Deepness" by the New Yorker and New York Times, addressed an audience of nearly 4,500 including 438 undergraduates (169 bachelor of science, 269 bachelor of arts), 41 master's students (11 master of arts in clinical psychology, 19 master's in education, one master of science in administration, 10 master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages) along with families, friends, faculty and staff. Degree recipients from last August and December also attended, bringing the total number of participating undergraduates to about 480.
Earle noted how appropriate it was on Mother's Day to honor "the mother of all mothers – Mother Earth," or perhaps even "Mother Ocean," since that's where 95 percent of the world's life-giving water is.
Earle suggested "we're in a time like never before and never again" for making policies that might, in the true spirit of Saint Michael's, takes others into account -- even if they are the others of the future. Saint Michael the Archangel, she playfully reminded the audience, "was an action figure" representing the victory of good over evil -- a good role model in a life-or-death struggle like the survival of the planet that is our only small shared home in such a vast universe.
"What are the reasons for hope? There is no greater reason for hope than this Class of 2014," she concluded to cheers.
Before her address, Earle was presented with an honorary degree, as were:
Joseph P. Garrity '78 served as a trustee of the college from 2002 to 2011, the last five years as chair. A Certified Public Accountant by training, he has built an impressive career leading businesses on the front edge of various modern communications and computing niches. Currently he is Independent Director at Wireless Telecom Group, Inc. and a partner with Prospect Capital Partners in New York. He previously was Chief Financial Officer of 4Kids Entertainment, Inc., a company that integrates technologies with toy and game concepts. He also took the lead in the search for and hiring of President John J. Neuhauser in 2007, and his gifts have supported many major projects at the college.
Rosemary Reiss, the third "First Lady" of "Saint Michael's College from 1985 to 1996 when her husband, Paul, was president, became well-known for dedicated service to the college in those years, as well as to her family and the community. She is mother to nine children, grandmother to 27, and recently a great-grandmother. With a master's in Scripture study, she taught high school and parish religion classes and has done extensive volunteer work at Vermont Respite House and Mercy Care, promoting literacy and helping manage camps for inner-city children. She also is very active with the League of Women Voters, Chittenden County Agency on Aging, Flynn Theater and the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.
Peter Gilbert, one of Vermont's most admired essayists has been executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) since 2002 and Robert Frost's executor since 1992. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Georgetown Law Center and University of Virginia, he is a former litigator and teacher of English and history at Philips Academy in Andover, MA, as well as author of I Was Thinking … Travels in the World of Ideas – a collection of his essays. He also has been senior assistant to the president and associate provost at Dartmouth.
Earlier, Saint Michael's President Jack Neuhauser helped open the formal ceremony with thoughtful remarks about "the great conversation" that students have during college, deciding how to interact and relate with others. He quoted Liam Connors '14, who wrote in the student newspaper last month that "college is not about learning what you want to do, but about learning who you want to be." Education basically, is "about only three things – experience, reflection and decisions," the president said. With it we can "decide what is true, trustworthy and what counts."
Winners of the Katherine Fairbanks and Father Prevel Memorial Awards for the outstanding woman and man in the graduating class went to Nora Stoelting and Jacob Pelletier respectively. Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino, said that Stoelting, environmental studies major from Brooklyn, NY, also had political science and peace and justice minors and was a Magna Cum Laude graduate (3.62 GPA) who completed the college's Honors Program.
Talentino said that Pelletier, a political science and sociology/anthropology double-major from Enfield, CT, also was a magna cum laude graduate (3.75 GPA). His achievements included the political science honor society and immersion in campus life that showed "how one engaged student can have tremendous positive effects" on the world. Pelletier is joining the Peace Corps after graduation.
The class had co-valedictorians with a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average: Alyssa Cuddy of Lawrence , MA, who had a double-major in sociology/anthropology and environmental science and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and Delta Sigma Epsilon honoraries, with departmental honors; and Katherine Schutt of Groveton, NH, a chemistry major who won a nationally prestigious Goldwater Scholarship as a junior – the first ever from Saint Michael's – along with Sigma Xi scientific research honorary and departmental honors.
Edmundite Superior General, Very Rev. Michael P. Cronogue gave the invocation, while Rev. Brian Cummings SSE, director of Campus Ministry, made the benediction. Grace Barney of Bridgeport, CT, chosen by classmates for the Senior Address, was received with enthusiasm for an inspiring talk that focused on friendships, learning experiences and "our individuality – our soul." "This place is filled with individuals just trying to follow our heart … We are one crazy band of misfits," she said, but college "is where you become the best version of yourselves." The graduate student speaker was Nalini Cheatham of Underhill, VT, from the clinical psychology master's program, who told about being born and raised in Fiji before crossing "16 time zones and as many cultural zones" on a breathtaking journey to realize "there's an essence of being human."
At Baccalaureate Mass Saturday evening at 4 p.m., the homilist, the Very Rev. Michael Cronogue, Society of Saint Edmund superior general, prayed for Jordan Porco, a member of the class who died tragically several years ago. Cronogue said families are a "church in miniature," and he urged families to communicate love to one another openly over the Commencement weekend, calling families "the place where [people] learn forgiveness and reconciliation, and to admit mistakes."
"God asks, we respond," he said. "You've been a great class. We love you, and we're proud of you."
Visit the Saint Michael's flickr account for images of Commencement.