Ceremony honors scholars and teachers of Saint Michael’s

Major teaching awards at annual Academic Convocation go to Professors Jeffrey Ayres, William Ellis and Carolyn Lukens-Olson; Michael Bosia does keynote presentation on pandemics and loss through 'image, people, place, music and verse'

September 25, 2021
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

The Dais Party at Friday’s event was, from left, Peter Vantine, Rev. David Theroux, Michael Bosia, President Sterritt. VPAA Trumbower, Dean Tara Natarajan, George Ashline and Kelechi Onuoha ’23. (photos by Lauren Read)

At this year’s annual Academic Convocation — a September tradition established in 1986 to honor Saint Michael’s College scholars and scholarship — more than 100 faculty, staff, students and College leaders came together in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall mid-afternoon on Friday, Sept. 24, to:

  • Present three major annual faculty awards: for service; for scholarship & artistic achievement; and for teaching
  • Hear a keynote message from last year’s scholarship award winner, Michael Bosia of the political science faculty – a message that went beyond only spoken remarks. It was built around a poignant PowerPoint with accompanying live music played by an alumnus on guitar, and drew parallels between loved ones lost to AIDS over the decades and those more recently lost in the present COVID-19 pandemic – “an argument through image, people, place, music and verse” as one slide stated it.
  • Hear President Lorraine Sterritt speak about her keen awareness and appreciation of faculty work
  • Enjoy inspiring student remarks from Kenechi Onuoha ‘23, after students representing the academic honor societies on campus processed in carrying the flags of their respective groups, accompanied by beautiful guitar music performed by Professor Bill Ellis of the Fine Arts/Music faculty
  • Formally recognize many distinguished retiring longtime faculty, while welcoming new faces and acknowledging those granted tenure or promoted to full professor.

The main event of this, as previous, Academic Convocation was the presentation of the three always highly anticipated major faculty awards, which Master of Ceremonies, VPAA and Dean Jeffrey Trumbower, said were chosen by the Faculty Council based on nominations from across the College. The winners (listed with name of award presenter – the previous year’s winners — and some words from each citation):


Jeffrey Ayres receiving his recognition Friday.

Norbert A. Kuntz Service Award winner: Jeffrey Ayres, political science/international relations (presenter Peter Vantine, French): “As a leader at our College, Professor Jeffrey Ayres has few peers. He has served on Faculty Welfare Committee and Faculty Council, as Dean of the College, as Chair of his Department, as Director of the Global Studies Program, and in the past year as Faculty Representative to the Board of Trustees and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee. He is now the founding director for the Center Global Engagement. His service includes mentoring student research and advising a number of student organizations … He is one of, if not the most, articulate member of the faculty speaking on the link between our mission and internationalization… [He] is a leading scholar on the politics of North American integration and works closely with scholars in Canada and Mexico… He has served as a Fulbright scholar… His commitment to higher education, empathetic leadership, and the pursuit of knowledge and justice are beyond compare.”

Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award Winner: William Ellis, fine arts/music (presenter Michael Bosia, political science): “Bill is best known on our campus for his teaching and lecturing on the African-American traditional and popular music and its offshoots. He is a dedicated student of the blues and musical traditions of the American South general ….a renowned authority on Rev. Gary Davis … As staff music writer for a decade at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he published over 2,000 articles on all aspects of music.


William Ellis after his recognition.

He has written liner notes…. [and] since coming to Vermont taken a notable interest in the music of local new American communities… He is an award-winning songwriter, guitar player and singer who has performed throughout the USA and the world. It is rare for the recipient of this award to deserve it equally for both areas mentioned in its name, but Bill is the exception. For his extraordinary contributions to both the scholarly and popular understanding of music and art that is central to the American experience, for his creative output that continues to seek new territory, and for his ability in all his work to bridge complicated cultural divides with sensitivity and sophistication [is the award presented].

2018 Joanne Rathgeb Teaching Award Winner: Carolyn Kukens-Olson, Spanish (presenter Steve Doyon, business administration and accounting): “Carolyn Lukens-Olson is a caring, dedicated and rigorous teacher…with her students… [she] gives them her full, focused attention as she engages them in thoughtful discussions about Spanish language, culture and literature, about study abroad and their lives and plans beyond Saint Michael’s.


Carolyn Lukens-Olson hears the reading of her honorary citation.

She broadens their view of the world…..[she] listens patiently … has high standards for her students yet works tirelessly to support them….During 15 year as Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature and still today she has been a model of exceptional teaching and a mentor to colleagues. [Her] students speak of her passion and compassion, sustained enthusiasm and dedication, honesty and unique charisma. Carolyn’s students have felt personally and profoundly touched, or even transformed by her teaching.”

“Hold Your Own”

In his Convocation Address/Presentation near the ceremony’s end, last year’s scholarship award winner Michael Bosia began with the lights dimmed, saying his presentation would be something different from the normal spoken talk. A PowerPoint image appeared on the screen behind him. The images had focusing words: “Indifference, intolerance, ignorance, inequality, invisibility, isolation, xenophobia, hate, fear, shame, profit, PANDEMIC.” Another had a quote from queer indigenous scholar Joseph Pierce: “At its worst, the rhetoric of community uplift is completely devoid of any real, meaningful relationship with the communities most affected by the pandemic.” Images followed of the AIDS quilt and flags on the Mall representing deaths from COVID, followed by images of people close to Bosia – souls lost prematurely to pandemics –from his earlier days in political activism as he helped formulate AIDS policies, through more recent times.

Bosia recited a poem during the slide progression, titled “Hold Your Own” by Kae Tempest, a British non-binary spoken work performer, poet and songwriter. Among the words were “Time is an onslaught, love is a mission; We work for vocations until, in remission, we wish we’d had patience and given more time to our children. Feel each decision that you make — Make it, hold it, hold your own…..”


Michael Bosia starts his keynote multimedia presentation.

A full program

The 3:45 p.m. ceremony in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall opened with beautiful music Bill Ellis of the Fine Arts/Music faculty, an accomplished guitarist who sat on stage and played pleasant songs from the folk genre that is his specialty, from about 15 minutes prior to the opening procession, and during it including for the opening procession.

After the honor, students processed in with their colorful flags and took seats in front rows before the stage along with faculty stage participants in academic regalia, George Ashline, professor of mathematics and long a dedicated member of the campus Catholic faith community gave an invocation. “Guide us as we fulfill our many professional activities and duties, and especially as we teach and collaborate with our students. We pray that they become wise, loving, and professional people with an understanding and appreciation of community, faith, family, self, and truth. Faced with an ever-complex, ever-challenging world, may they be prepared to do well and do good,” he prayed.

Trumbower then recognized the student/recent-graduate flag-bearers from academic honor societies present: Dina Alsaffar ’20, Phi Beta Kappa; Emilie Webster, biology, Nicole Anderson, Athletic Honors Society, Celeste Matte, education; Ellen McKenna, journalism; Jeson Li, economics,; Elizabeth Grabner, history; Sophie Ward, mathematics; Scott Czerwinski, political science, Kaitlyn Root, psychology; Bennett Dwyer, business; Chris Kombo, physics; Kevin Pham, science; and Dan O’Malley, religious studies.


Kelechi Onuaho ’23 addresses the assembly.

That led into to the traditional address from a student, this year from Kelechi Onuaha’23, the secretary of community engagement for the Student Government Association, a biology major with a minor in chemistry and statistics from Stroudsburg, PA. In her talk titled “The Reason of Things,” the student speaker said her desire was “that each of you take away one aspect to help you triumph through this academic year, not only for yourself but for our student body.” She talked about how much she likes to ask questions, to a point that might seem excessive to some in her tendency to question every single thing. “”They key to engaging my mind requires these three steps: knowing, searching and seeking,” she said. “The more you know, the more valuable you become,” Onuoha said. “You can live your life in a shadow of doubt allowing for a false state of knowing, or you can continuously grow by looking at previously accepted beliefs in a new way by questioning.”  Near the close of her talk, she said, “Choose to put your wisdom into use by knowing, searching and seeking why things are the way they are.”

President Lorraine Sterritt then had brief remarks. The president recognized both the anticipation and pride of anticipating the coming year, but also the challenges as “We are in our third academic year affected by this pandemic,” leading also to “collective feelings of tiredness and frustration. But we must be ballasts to one another.” She offered her gratitude and appreciation of faculty and their essential teaching and scholarly/creative work. “I want to say that I see the work you are doing … all of you have exemplified the very principles for which we stand,” Sterritt said.


President Sterritt offers gratitude and encouragement to faculty.

The next part of the program honored new emeritus professors as result of their retirements in the past year or two. Not present but recognized with the reading of their names and applause were Christine Bauer-Ramazani (applied linguistics, 35 years), Ronald Begley (philosophy, 34 years), Daniel Evans (Applied Linguistics, 33 years), Ronald Miller (psychology, 37 years); Susan Ouellette (history, 23 years); and Karen Talentino (biology, 13 years).

Here are this year’s retirees who were present and came forward for recognition and presentation of gifts, with some words from Dean Tara Natarajan’s reading of the shortened citations for the ceremony:

George Dameron, history and humanities, 38 years: “You have been an exemplary colleague, mentor and teacher for many hundreds of souls … and an internationally known scholar, .a superlative model for your colleagues.”

Douglas Facey, biology: “a student center- professional…ever-wise, pragmatic and a keystone of the Biology Department. Your legacy will be present in the department’s curriculum c, culture and best practices for years to come.”

Richard Gamache, applied linguistics, 50 years: “.an international student adviser…the heart-center of the Applied Linguistics Department…an outstanding educator, a man of faith and integrity and a most supportive colleague.

Elizabeth Innes-Brown Monley, English: “exemplary teacher, advocate, model and mentor…a lovely example of a teacher-scholar … you went out of your way to get to know the young people you were teaching… [They] benefitted from your experience and expertise as they honed their own craft.’’

John Izzi, philosophy, 36 years: “…among the College’s most iconic professors. After class student often followed you to our office, where the conversation might continue for hours… you led searches resulting in the College’s first tenured women philosophers.”

Lloyd Simons, mathematics, 33 years: “He brought with him a love of intellectual life, a love of mathematics and a love of teaching….six years as mathematics chair, two as co-chair of mathematics and statistic…co-coordinated our engineering program. You were ever a pragmatic voice of reason in Saint Michel’s governance. Calm, wry and de-escalating, your presence has shaped the College in positive ways for over three decades.”

Lorrie Smith, English: “a quiet mid-pandemic departure in 2020 stands in deep contrast to your long, vibrant, music and poetry filled career at the center of the English Department … intimate one-on-ones with students was central to your teaching, especially your attention to helping students become better writers.”

Fr. David Theroux, S.S.E, gave the benediction before the gathering retired to a Sodexo-catered reception in the Teaching Garden: “Guide, O Lord, our strivings toward greater justice for all. Bless, O Lord, our efforts to make wide narrow minds, to open doors that have been closed, to ease the avenues of access for all, and to understand that diversity is a blessing that reflects the multiplicity and fecundity of your creation,” he prayed.

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