Two outdoor ceremonies send Saint Michael’s graduates forth
Respecting COVID precautions on a glorious sunny day, more than 300 from 437-member class and their guests celebrate a community's perseverance through a pandemic
On a perfect day for its first outdoors Commencement since 1979, Saint Michael’s College welcomed several hundred vaccinated and distanced guests as nearly 300 members of the still-larger 437-member Class of 2021 graduated during separate morning and afternoon ceremonies to meet state COVID safety guidelines.
The graduates’ perseverance through a pandemic was a recurring theme in remarks from speakers at the two nearly identical 90-minute ceremonies. The first 10 a.m. morning “Gold” Ceremony for the Thursday, May 13 Commencement was for those receiving bachelor of arts degrees, while the afternoon 1 p.m. “Purple” Ceremony was for bachelor of science and master’s degree recipients.
The Registrar’s Office reported that, including August/December 2020 graduates, degrees conferred to the Class of 2021 at the College’s 114th Commencement include: 91 master’s, 151 B.S’s., and 195 B.A.’s. Of those, 305 were expected to attend the two Thursday ceremonies — both of which were livestreamed so families or non-present graduates at home could watch via a College website link. Several hundred signed in to watch each livestream. Last year’s 2020 Commencement at the height of the pandemic was entirely an online virtual ceremony. This year, Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Economics Tara Natarajan read each participant’s name as each walked across the dais to receive a diploma.
College leaders who spoke said they were pleased to be able to celebrate its 114th Commencement in person and with guests. These plans were announced to students on April 14 as a result of changes the State of Vermont has made in its health and safety guidelines.
Said Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt, the day’s main speaker in the absence of a more traditional invited Commencement speaker: “To have been a college student during this year – to have achieved your degree – demonstrates that you have developed the courage and the concern to pursue your own goals while remaining steadfastly committed to others, to keep your community safe and healthy, to make the very best of our common efforts to change the world for the better.”
To start both the morning and afternoon ceremonies, Class of ’21 members led by bagpipers processed in caps and gowns, as is traditional – though this year from an outdoor gathering site by the Saint Michael Archangel statue rather than the usual indoor site. They marched past the Chapel through a gauntlet of cheering faculty and staff, and also past Founders Hall for the last time before it starts coming down next week — to the ceremonies’ site on the main central campus green beneath flowering trees in all their colorful spring glory. The steps of Durick Library served as a dais, with a canopy, a College banner and flags of nations and academic societies across the back. Each previous commencement for the past 42 years has been indoors, mostly in the Ross Sports Center.
Receiving honorary degrees this year were Saint Michael’s Trustee and Burlington-area activist for racial equality Patrick Brown, and also, posthumously, Rev. Michael Cronogue, S.S.E. Patrick Brown was present during the afternoon ceremony to receive his honor formally and even offered a few inspirational remarks.
The College’s most prominent awards for the male and female student who “demonstrate commitment and achievement related to the intellectual, spiritual, moral and social values of Saint Michael’s College,” are the Fr. Prevel and the Katherine Fairbanks Awards. This year’s Prevel winner was Alex Valenzuela Mendez, a political science and philosophy double major with a minor in Peace and Justice and a GPA of 3.82 while being a four-year starter and ace pitcher on the Purple Knights baseball team. He was a capable and confident student leader, from student life to student activities to athletics, said Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower, who was master of ceremonies.
The Fairbanks winner was Ashley Morgan Turner, a biology major with minors in religious studies and environmental studies from Bristol, VT. She played varsity lacrosse for the Purple Knights and was active in the group Hope Happens Here promoting mental health awareness. Turner is not only the top academic in the graduating class but has been heavily involved around campus. She has a 4.0 GPA as a biology major on a pre-medicine track, minoring in both anthropology and chemistry, and was the 2020 NE10 Elite 24 award winner thanks to having the highest GPA among all women’s lacrosse players in the league. She studied traditional Chinese medicine while traveling abroad during her other semester. Turner has been a member of SAAC and HHH, served on the Saint Michael’s Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, been an Orientation leader and a Pre-Orientation Weekend (POW) leader, and worked with Green Up SMC. A member of four honor societies, Turner was inducted into Beta Beta Beta (biology), Chi Alpha Sigma (college athlete), Delta Epsilon Sigma (Catholic college) and Phi Beta Kappa (liberal arts). She has also been part of a team on campus studying the brains of Central American Wandering Spiders through a NASA research grant.
Instead of naming a valedictorian, VPAA Trumbower spoke the names at each ceremony and had stand those graduating summa cum laude with GPAs of 4.0 in all their Saint Michael’s courses. They are Sophia Marie Domingoes, Connor Anthony Lorenz, Tenley Amanda Mazerolle, Noah Evan Robinson and Ashley Morgan Turner.
The weather turned out to be perfect – clear blue skies, bright sun, pleasantly cool temperatures — though the ceremonies were to be outdoors, rain or shine. Two fully vaccinated guests were permitted for each student participating in a ceremony. Fully vaccinated was defined by the CDC as being two weeks after one’s final shot. For the Commencement, this meant receiving one’s final dose on or before April 29.
President Lorraine Sterritt presided at both the morning and afternoon ceremonies along with addressing the class members. She said that now at the conclusion of “three difficult semesters of adaptations and persistence,” the community was finding “many opportunities for joy and connection.” She spoke of the sacrifice and adaptation required to reach the day’s milestone, and spoke of hearts going out “to all who have suffered and continue to suffer from this global crisis.” Another theme for the president was to recognize the willingness of students to join those speaking up around the nation and world against racism this past year in spite of so many challenges. Through the past year and a half, “we learned that a good plan necessarily involves readiness to change the plan,” and that “flexibility and adaptability are just as valuable as a good plan.” She likened that to the College’s willingness to adapt and change course when necessary in its history – as 50 years ago when Saint Michael’s admitted its first women. students
The president thanked her staff and administrative assistant Denise Brault in particular for their amazing flexibility and adaptations to fast-changing circumstances. “I encourage you to be ready to be a ground-breaker, a path-forger, a leader who makes your own mark” like those women did 50 years ago, she said, adding that the 2021 graduates will tell their grandchildren about these times. “We rose to the challenge, and I especially applaud the great class of 2021. You will never forget this college experience, I can assure you of that.”
Speakers at both ceremonies included a Graduate Address by Melissa A. Holzman M’21 of Essex Junction, a Senior Address by Gabriella Malta LaRiviere ’21 of Swampscott, MA, Faculty Well-Wishes from John Izzi, PhD, professor of philosophy, of Winooski; Staff Well-Wishes from Heidi St. Peter, MEd ’96, assistant dean for advising, of Hinesburg; followed by the conferring of honorary degrees.
Holzman described completing her master of arts in teaching as a mother, wife and employee, taking inspiration from a student who wrote on a classroom whiteboard, “if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know the ending.” LaRiviere compared her college experience to a roller coaster in the best sense of that exhilarating, fun and worthwhile experience, even with its ups and downs, and she expressed gratitude for how much she has changed in four years, and for those who helped make that happen.
John Izzi, retiring from the philosophy faculty after 36 years, spoke of the “gratitude, trepidation and anticipation” that he and his “fellow graduates” likely feel, but he added, “The flip side of trepidation is anticipation.” Heidi St. Peter ’96, assistant dean for advising, reminded the class of changes they have witnessed at the college. “Jack Neuhauser completed his tenure during your first year, you were here to witness the inauguration of our first female president…. Saint Michael’s introduced seven new majors and eight new minors and programs since you’ve arrived. You were some of the last students to know Lou DiMasi in his legendary role in Student Life. You lived through a cafeteria remodel and are witnessing the razing of Founders Hall. In your time here, our St. Mike’s community has been stretched and pulled in our own kind of growing pains.”
More on the honorary degree recipients:
Patrick N. Brown, PhD M’85, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa: Active for many years as a partner in programming at Burlington’s Howard Center and a longtime lecturer at the University of Vermont, Patrick Brown M’85, founder and executive director of the Greater Burlington Multicultural Resource Center, also has been one of the most active members of the greater Burlington community as an advocate and educator on diversity issues and initiatives.
He came to the area in the 1980s as a Saint Michael’s master’s student, via his native Jamaica, and later undergraduate studies at Concordia University in Montreal, eventually earning a doctorate in educational leadership. He led efforts to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Vermont, and continues to organize events and actions to extend that legacy. He also was key organizer of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s historic visit to Vermont in 2005. Dr. Brown has won prestigious awards for his work, including the City of Burlington Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Burlington School District, and the Antonio B. Pomerleau Medal of Honor. He also ran a Caribbean restaurant in Burlington for a time, is deeply involved in Burlington’s arts and culture scene, and has been an adjunct lecturer at the University of Vermont in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences since 1999, with past appointments in Education and Arts and Sciences there.
Rev. Michael Cronogue, SSE, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa: The late Rev. Michael Cronogue, SSE, was a dynamic and popular priest in the Saint Michael’s Edmundite community in the decades preceding his sudden death in 2016 at age 68. Known to the community as Father Mike, he was the founder of MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts), the longtime campus organization for local, domestic, and international service work. During his decades in Campus Ministry, he worked diligently and generously for peace and social justice, teaching Saint Michael’s courses in those fields while touching countless lives with small kindnesses. His service to others included time at the Edmundite Missions in Selma, AL, early in his priesthood, and long years volunteering at Burlington’s Ronald McDonald House. He had many leadership posts for the Society of Saint Edmund and also served as a College Trustee. His popularity led to recent fundraising in his name of over $1 million. The newest residence building on campus will be named Cronogue Hall to honor his legacy.
Another milestone moment was that Ashley Parker ‘21 of the graduating class represented the first AFROTC Commissioning on campus for quite a while, likely since the days when AFROTC was mandatory in the 1950s and 1960s. Parker is also the 2021 Cadet Wing Commander at Norwich and the Distinguished Graduate as a St. Mike’s students. She has had many leadership roles at the College with MOVE and the SVA and is in the Chemistry Honors program. She has been selected as one of three chemists entering the Air Force this year in a field of approximately 80.
A virtual Baccalaureate Mass will be livestreamed from the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.
Molly Darling Crafts ’21 beautifully sang the national anthem a capella for both ceremonies.
Father Marcel Rainville, S.S.E. ’67 offered the benediction at Thursday’s ceremonies, including these words: “Loving God, grant to these, your dearest daughters and sons, to be faithful stewards of the Gif of Life. Grant them the blessings of judicious faith, fearless hope and joyous charity.”