Dunford exhorts graduates to moral courage, service

May 14, 2017

 Enjoy a full photo gallery from Commencement>>

“It’s never about you,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford ’77, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told the Saint Michael’s College graduating Class of 2017 on Sunday morning that moral courage and a commitment to serving others are essential qualities for “leaders of consequence.”

The nation’s highest-ranking military figure focused his speech on specific examples of that sort of leadership, all related to Saint Michael’s – notably, his own 1977 Saint Michael’s Commencement speaker, the late Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, who boldly took on McCarthyism in the early 1950s with her famous Senate speech “A Declaration of Conscience” despite the risks and pressures that presented to her, inspiring others to speak out and bring an end to that dark era in U.S. history. Dunford told graduates he later regretted not paying as close attention to her speech at his graduation as he should have – but he made up for it by learning all about Smith later on.


– Burlington Free Press: Joint Chiefs chairman to SMC grads: Leadership needed

– ABC 22/FOX 44: General Joseph Dunford delivers 110th Saint Michael’s College Commencement Address

– WPTZ/NBC 5: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gives St. Michael’s College commencement

– WCAX/CBS: Top general delivers leadership message to St. Mike’s grads

– Vermont Public Radio: Senior Military Leader Returns To Vt. Alma Mater, Weighs Options For Afghanistan

Other consequential leaders of moral courage he cited were priests of the College’s founding religious order, the Society of Saint Edmund, particularly Father Maurice Ouellet, who took a courageous stand for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, during the civil rights era in the mid-1960s as part of events directly leading to Voting Rights Act. Dunford also began his speech celebrating his sponsor for his honorary degree, Edmundite Fr. Raymond Doherty ’51, a Marine veteran of the Korean War who has six decades of service with the Edmundites. That brought long applause, as did Dunford’s salute to mothers in the audience. He asked them to stand in honor of the Mother’s Day ceremony.

Dunford’s audience for the College’s 110th Commencement on May 14 in the Ross Sports Center included 456 undergraduates and 30 graduate degree recipients who later crossed the dais to receive diplomas to the cheers of hundreds more family members and friends packed into Ross.

At Saturday’s dinner and again in his Sunday speech, Dunford spoke with fond nostalgia of his Saint Michael’s memories, saying that flying in to Burlington Saturday afternoon with Sen. Patrick Leahy ’61, he had the feeling of a homecoming as he looked out the window of the military aircraft that transported from Washington these two high-ranking national officials and Michaelmen, along with Dunford’s significant security entourage (a notable presence all weekend in conjunction with local police, campus security and bomb-sniffing dogs).

Sen. Leahy and with his wife, Marcelle, joined Dunford at Saturday’s Baccalaureate in the Chapel with Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne and a Saturday night dinner for honorary degree recipients in Dion Family Student Center. The senator, an avid photographer, was snapping shots all weekend, and sat close to the dais Sunday, frequently rising and moving about to record the occasion.

Both the senator and general and their entourages moved after the ceremony into the Tarrant Center — indoors on a rainy day – to join graduates and families mingling with faculty by major. Neither public figure ever lagged in energy or gracious personal enthusiasm as they met with excited graduates, families and the press in the Tarrant Center for pictures and conversations for well more than an hour.

Dunford noted in his speech how several other “leaders of consequence,” reflecting the best Saint Michael’s values, shared the dais with him Sunday to receive honorary degrees of humane letters: Loung Ung ’93, a bestselling author, activist, and co-writer of a Netflix Original Movie directed by Angelina Jolie based on Ung’s  memoir, First They Killed My Father, to be released in early 2017; Tracy Romano ‘86, an internationally prominent marine biologist who leads the research team at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; and Brian Lacey ’72, president of Lacey Entertainment in New York and a veteran leader of the global entertainment business specializing in original programs for the U.S. and world marketplace, with major successes that have included Pokemon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The honorees represented a theme for this year’s Commencement, as the master of ceremonies, Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino, described at the start by saying all were chosen “not only because of the significant personal and professional goals they have achieved in their lives, but also to represent the range of career and life achievements that are possible with a Saint Michael’s education.”

The day’s other central theme was, of course, academic achievement. Talentino announced the top academic prizes: The 2017 Valedictorian was Ashlee Hauble from Brainerd, Minnesota, an environmental science major with minors in chemistry and religious studies, who had a 4.0 GPA, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Delta Epsilon Sigma honor societies, and achieved the highest score in the past decade of over 1,000 students who have taken the ACS organic chemistry exam at Saint Michael’s. She’s joining a classmate to serve the poor in Mexico with religious sisters for a year. Hauble later joined President John J. Neuhauser in leading the class from the ceremony.

The Katherine Fairbanks Memorial Award and Father Prevel Memorial Award are for the woman and man, respectively, “demonstrating commitment and achievement related to the intellectual, spiritual, moral and social values of Saint Michael’s College.” Fairbanks winner was Jessica Barnett of Essex, VT, who completed a major in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish with a GPA of 4.0 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and Delta Epsilon Sigma honor societies. She also completed a rigorous study abroad program and took pre-med courses in Spanish, while doing extended research on Vermont bobcat genetics and playing varsity softball and training for half-marathons.

Prevel winner was Christopher Holloway of Ashburnham, MA, who had a double major in psychology and theater with a 3.819 GPA and membership in the Delta Epsilon Sigma (Catholic) and Psi Chi (psychology) honor societies. He was featured in several theater productions at the College, adapted and directed a version of HG Well’s “War of the Worlds” and sang in the men’s a cappella group. He also was a tour guide and social ambassador for the Founders Society and deeply involved in Edmundite Campus Ministry.

The graduate-student Commencement address came from Genevieve King of Burlington, who received her master’s in Clinical Psychology. She spoke of finding hope on a “winding and bumpy” road in her life, managing chronic illnesses and family challenges that led to her passion to study psychology. Her overriding theme was the need to recognize a common thread of humanity among us, rejecting the division of people into categories, as we sometimes do out of fear. “Let us have the courage to put aside the fear that tempts us to divide,” she said, instead embracing the power of vulnerability, empathy and connection.

The senior address was from Michael McCarthy, a sociology and anthropology major from Springfield, MA, who talked about the lovable if sometimes quirky personalities and traditions that make up the Saint Michael’s experience. He spoke of the genuine goodness in people at the College that makes it such a special place, particularly as exemplified by students and faculty/staff lost in the last year, but whose spirit lives on.

Several times during the ceremony speakers remembered community members who died in the last year, among them the late Rev. Michael Cronogue, SSE; professor Craig Jensen, Institutional Advancement employee Donna Oles; and students Jerry Collins and William Peterson, whose parents accepted their diplomas posthumously for them, to extended applause.

The main music selection was a well-received jazzy arrangement of Debussy’s “Clare de Lune” by Sean Richard Walkama’17, performed by Walkama on bass with other students and a friend on guitar, alto sax and trumpet.

General Dunford told graduates that being a leader means doing the right thing even when it’s unpopular, and that “the greatest call is to serve.”

“What I’ve learned in 40 years is that extraordinary leaders are actually ordinary men and women who make a commitment to excellence” and dig down deep, he said, adding that the world will need the new graduate’s leadership given that “from a security perspective alone, the challenges we face are as complex as any we’ve faced since World War II,” while the pace of change is unprecedented. As Saint Michael’s graduates, he told the class, “You are uniquely equipped” to meet those challenges. Dunford closed by saying it has been an “extraordinary day to be back home and part of such a big day in your lives,” and that whether they were inspired by Maurice Ouellet, Margaret Chase Smith or somebody else, he hoped they would “go forth to be leaders of consequence.”

President Neuhauser told graduates that, “more than anything, I wish for you the gift of kindness.” Trustees Chair Mary-Kate McKenna spoke of 40 years of happy association with the college. “Your education has prepared you to be leaders with an intellectual and moral compass,” she said. Following conferral of degrees (as Dean Jeffrey Ayres read the names of graduates – first master’s recipients, then bachelor of arts and bachelor of science recipients) — Alumni Association Board of Directors Vice President Anne Rosello ’94 welcomed graduates to the alumni ranks and spoke of what it means to be a part of the extended Saint Michael’s community after graduation.

Invocation was offered by very Rev. Stephen Hornat, superior general of the Society of Saint Edmund, and benediction by Edmundite Fr. Brian Cummings, director of Campus Ministry.

Follow us on social.