Burkle ’61 to speak at service-themed Commencement

March 10, 2016

An enduring and strong commitment to social justice and public service at Saint Michael’s College will be exemplified at this year’s Commencement ceremony by the College’s choice of speaker and honorary degree recipients.

Dr. Frederick M. (Skip) Burkle, a 1961 Saint Michael’s graduate whose extraordinary career advancing global health initiatives earned him an honorary degree from the College in 2009, will return to be this year’s Commencement speaker for the ceremony on Sunday, May 15 at 10 a.m. in the Ross Sports Center.

In a departure from the College’s tradition of presenting honorary degrees only to individuals, this year Saint Michael’s will present a degree to an entire organization – the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program – given the intense international focus on refugees in our world recently.

“In giving VRRP this award, we are honoring all of the organizations within Vermont that work tirelessly to give hope and opportunity to New Americans in Vermont,” said Karen Talentino, the College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. “In addition to VRRP, these include the Association for Africans Living in Vermont, King Street Center, and the Vermont Family Network.  Saint Michael’s students and faculty contribute to this entire network through student internships, supervised research, and many classes focused on community-engaged learning.”

Two other honorary degrees will go to local individuals whose careers demonstrate their strong devotion to justice and service – the choral-music legend Robert De Cormier and Rita Markley, Executive Director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) in Burlington.

Baccalaureate Mass will be celebrated by homilist and principal celebrant Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne Saturday, May 14 at 4 p.m. in the College Chapel (and broadcast live to Dion Family Student Center).

“Given our mission to improve the human condition in light of the Catholic faith, we encourage students and other members of our community to live a life of commitment to creating a more peaceful and just world,” Talentino said. “The people we are honoring at this year’s Commencement exemplify this mission and serve as inspirations to all of us.”

The Commencement Speaker:

Dr. Frederick (Skip) Burkle, Jr., M.D. ’61 HD’09: Saint Michael’s graduate, Dr. Frederick Burkle, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., D.T.M., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.E.P. has had an extraordinary career. He is qualified in emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and public health. He founded and directed the World Health Organization Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance from 1994 to 2000. He is on the faculty of Harvard School of Public Health; the Center for Refugees and Disaster Response of Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutes; Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, D.C. (2008-2010); and was deputy assistant administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (1989-2000). Dr. Burkle was Joint Civil-Military Liaison for the Kurdish Crisis in southern Turkey, northern Iraq and Baghdad, and he has provided health oversight in the former Yugoslavia, Central Africa, Thai-Cambodia border area, Asia and Pakistan. In 2003, he was Interim Minister of Health in Iraq. He has chaired departments of emergency medicine, pediatrics and surgery at medical schools at the University of Hawaii; in Melbourne, Australia; at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland; the African Center for Strategic Studies, Washington, D.C.; and the Tulane University School of Public Health, New Orleans. He is a retired captain in the United States Naval Reserve. A full biography can be found at http://hhi.harvard.edu/people/frederick-skip-m-burkle-jr

Robert De Cormier is a legendary American choral arranger, conductor, and composer whose career has spanned almost 60 years. De Cormier lives in Vermont. In Vermont, he founded the Vermont Symphony Orchestra (VSO) Chorus in 1993 and Counterpoint (formerly in residence at Saint Michael’s College) in 2000. He was musical director both for Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul & Mary, as well as director of the Robert De Cormier Singers and the New York Choral Society. De Cormier is deeply knowledgeable about folk music of many traditions as well as protest and political songs. A 2014 article in Burlington’s Seven Days newspaper by Amy Lilly highlights his passion for social justice and raising social awareness through music. He treats topics from the Holocaust and slavery to bullying and the music of the oppressed. The article notes that several years ago De Cormier chose “to commute practically the length of Vermont to teach a class at Saint Michael’s College called ‘Songs of Resistance: Music in Struggle’ at the age of 86.” Nathaniel G. Lew, Fine Arts chair at the College, is successor to De Cormier as artistic director of Counterpoint.

Rita Markley, Executive Director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), has worked for decades to expand housing options for homeless families and individuals. Under her leadership, COTS received a national Blue Ribbon award from HUD for its Families in Transition program and a U.S. Conference of Mayors award for leadership in creating the Continuum of Care in Burlington. More recently, under Markley’s leadership, COTS has won a number of awards for building a new housing facility and creating a service enriched program on-site for homeless veterans. Markley was a founding member and served as the first Chair of the VT Coalition to End Homelessness and she remains an active member of the Chittenden Continuum of Care. She was named Vermonter of the Year in 1999 for raising awareness about homelessness in Vermont and for generating large private investment from business and individuals to address the issue and expand prevention options. Michael New, Saint Michael’s Vice President for Human Resources, for many years has worked closely with Markley at COTS as a volunteer.

The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) provides emergency shelter, services, and housing for people who are homeless or marginally housed in Vermont. COTS advocates for long-term solutions to end homelessness – believing in the value and dignity of every human life; that housing is a fundamental human right; and that emergency shelter is not the solution to homelessness.

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program: As a local field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) has been bringing hope and opportunity to the lives of refugees and immigrants since 1980 by defending human rights, promoting self-sufficiency, and forging community partnerships. VRRP provides refugees with their first home in the United States and acculturation services. VRRP’s award-winning volunteer program offers crucial community connections to newly arrived refugees. In addition, VRRP’s Interpreting and Translating Services (VITS) provides the region with professional services in more than twenty-five languages. Through a wide range of direct and collaborative programs, VRRP helps refugees to successfully adapt to life in the United States.

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