Shields praises politics and politicians at Commencement

By: Buff Lindau

mark shields at saint michael's college commencementNational political analyst, TV commentator Mark Shields captures with a riveting speech, the 500+ graduates and 4,000 others at the 106th Saint Michael's College Commencement today.

In a humorous, but serious, and spot-on commencement address, political commentator Mark Shields gave 2013 graduates of Saint Michael's College advice for life, and a powerful endorsement of the value of politics.

The 470 students earning bachelor’s degrees and the 43 earning master's degrees, and the 4,000 people in the assembly, were riveted to Shields talk at the liberal arts and sciences Catholic college in the Burlington area of Vermont.

His advice to graduates: "Call your mother…not text, not e-mail—call her. She wants to hear how you sound." And he advised, if you become parents, "spend more time than you judge to be reasonable with your children. Please know that no one in recorded history, on his or her death bed has ever said, 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office.'" And he advised graduates to pay off their student loans so that those who follow them will find the money there to go to college too.

Shields told the graduates not to worry about what others think of them, "because believe me, other people are not thinking about you…. they are worrying about what you think of them."

His most serious message was "I believe in the value of politics… politics is the peaceable resolution of conflict between legitimate competing interest… I don't know how else we can resolve our public differences and live together."

foot neuhauser lumbra process at commencement
Co-valedictorians Callie Umbra and Alexandra Foote process at the end of Commencement with President John J. Neuhauser.

He praised politicians because "political candidates boldly risk public rejection of the kind that most of us will go to almost any lengths to avoid." He spelled out the courage of a number of politicians—both Democrats and Republicans. And listed some major successes of politics: "I value the politics that wrote the GI Bill, the politics which passed the Marshall Plan to rebuild a war-devastated Europe—politics that wrote the Clean Air act which has taken 99% of the lead out of the air and that saved the Great Lakes through the Clear Water Act—the kind of politics that took want and fear out of old age through Social Security."

He said "politics at its best can help to make ours a world where the powerful can be made more just and where the weak can become more secure."

Mr. Shields was awarded an honorary degree at the ceremonies, and some 470 students were awarded bachelor's degrees and 43 were present to receive master's degrees.

Saint Michael's College conferred honorary doctor of humane letters degrees on four individuals including Mark Shields and Alice Boutin, the first "first lady" of Saint Michael's College, wife of the late Saint Michael's President Bernard Boutin; Patrick Robins, a 1961 graduate of Saint Michael's, Burlington community leader and founder of Symquest Group, and Father Daniel Riley, ofm, a a founding member of Mt. Irenaeus, Franciscan Mountain Retreat.

Mark Shields

A graduate of Notre Dame University who served as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps, Mr. Shields has a storied career in the American political scene. He began writing a column for the Washington Post in 1979, which is now syndicated by Creators Syndicate. Since 1988, he has been a political analyst and commentator for "The PBS NewsHour" where he matches wits with David Brooks of the New York Times in the storied Brooks-Shields dialogue. For 17 years he was moderator and panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang, and he is now a regular panelist on “Inside Washington” the weekly public affairs show on ABC and PBS.

Mr. Shields is described as providing insights that are "first-hand and up-to-the minute, drawn from four decades of knowing, covering and savoring the country and its politics."

Honorary degree recipients:

Alice Boutin, Saint Michael's first 'first lady.' Mrs. Boutin, the wife of Bernard Boutin, the first lay president of Saint Michael's College, who served from 1969 to 1974, was a beloved first lady who welcomed faculty into her home with gracious dinners, and served the college with great affection. Five of her children graduated from Saint Michael's. She is said to often feel as though she is a Saint Michael's graduate herself.

Father Daniel Riley, ofm, is a founding member of Mt. Irenaeus, Franciscan Mountain Retreat, where he and his brothers live an open and contemplative life in the foothills of the Allegany mountains.  There, they have created a haven for men and women seeking peace in the strength of community and with the benefits of reflection in solitude.  Previously, he was a campus minister at St. Bonaventure University and Director of Vocation Ministry for Holy Name Province, Order of Friars Minor.  A man of deep faith and commitment to Catholic higher education, Father Dan is a renowned spiritual guide for young people.  He has partnered with the Edmundite priests of Saint Michael’s to organize retreats for young people and priests on campus and at Enders Island.

Patrick Robins, chairman of the board of Symquest Group, and long-time civic leader in Burlington where he resides. He was also president of McAuliffe’s, the predecessor to Symquest. Mr. Robins graduated from Saint Michael’s in 1961 with a degree in English and earned an MBA from Dartmouth in 1964. He served on the Saint Michael’s Board of Trustees, 1992-95 and 1998-99. President of the Downtown Burlington Development Association, Mr. Robins led the development of the Church Street Marketplace and chaired the Marketplace Commission. He has been a champion of Burlington City Arts and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, as part of his ongoing, life-time campaigns to enrich the business and cultural life of the Burlington, Vermont. He serves on a number of other boards as well.

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