Community celebrates joyful tradition of Senior Awards Brunch

High-achieving students, community servants shine bright; yearbook dedication is to President Sterritt, who is retiring in June

May 11, 2023
Staff report

Saint Michael’s Award Winner Jeson Li with presenter Dawn Ellinwood. (photos by Lauren Read)

Enjoy highlight video from Senior Awards Brunch>>

As is tradition at Saint Michael’s College, the Thursday before Commencement weekend (May 11 this year) featured a celebration of the Senior Awards Brunch in the Alliot Green Mountain Dining Room. The event, which recognizes exceptional members of the senior class, as well as student-selected faculty and staff, annually brings forth inspirational figures who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the Saint Michael’s community.

Winners this year are:

Elizabeth A. Durick Award: Rada Ruggles
Frank G. Mahady Memorial Award: Andrew Dezjot
Martin Luther King, Jr. Society Award: Porsha Reynolds
Roger F. Keleher Memorial Awards: Josh Weiss (men’s tennis); six shared the women’s Keleher this year instead of the usual single honoree, since so many exceptional athletes had 3.9 GPAs or above, said Chris Kenny, Director of Athletics, presenter: Cailey Comiskey (women’s cross country), Grace Erholtz (women’s cross country and Nordic skiing), Filippa Hemmestorp (women’s cross country); Berty Olsen (Alpine skiing), Beth Syverson (women’s volleyball), and Emilie Webster (women’s lacrosse). (photo at bottom of story)


Durick Award winner Rada Ruggles with presenter Fr. Brian.

John D. Donoghue Award: Ashley DeLeon
Dedication of 2023 Yearbook: President D. Lorraine Sterritt
Gerald E. Dupont Awards: Henry Haddad (student), Professor Candas Pinar (sociology faculty); and Fr. Brian Cummings, S.S.E. ’86, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry and St. Anne’s Shrine (staff)

Saint Michael’s Award: Jeson Li

Class Appreciation Awards (given to “members of the Saint Michael’s College faculty and staff who have made a significant impact within the class”: Renee Breault (athletic trainer); Jeffrey Ayres (chair of political science/international relations and director for Center for Global Engagement); Melissa McDuffie (psychology faculty).

Community Service Awards: Seniors Aisha Navarrete, Jason Boucher, Nicole Quispe and Olivia Politi

Donald Sutton Community Service: Katherine Escobedo

Presenters and speakers at the brunch were:
Invocation:  Jerome Monachino, Edmundite Campus Ministry
Emcee:  Sydney Rybicki ‘18, assistant director of Alumni & Family Engagement
Remarks: President Lorraine Sterritt, who was attending her last Senior Awards Brunch as president before retirement.

Keynote Address: Christina Root, retiring presenter of English


Dooghue Award winner Ashley DeLeon with presenter Mike Donoghue.

Award Presenters: Elizabeth Durick Award: Fr. Brian Cummings ’86, Edmundite Campus Ministry; Frank Mahady Memorial: Lara Scott, Campus Ministry/MOVE; Martin Luther King, Jr. Society Award: Sarah Childs, associate dean of students/director, Center for Student Diversity, Empowerment, and Community; Roger Keleher Memorial Awards: Chris Kenny ’86 M’98, Director of Athletics ; John D. Donoghue Award: Michael Donoghue, retired journalism lecturer, current executive director, Vermont Press Association; Dedication of Yearbook:  Emma Jane Tagliaferro, senior class president, and Matthew G. Schreiner, senior class vice-president; Reverend Gerald Dupont Awards: Dakota A. Thomas and Ann Marie Janell, Student Association president and vice-president; Saint Michael’s Award: Dawn Ellinwood, Student Life; Class Gift Presentation: Carson O’Neill, chair, Senior Class Gift Committee; Senior Class Awards: Emma Jane Tagliaferro,  senior class president, and Matthew G. Schreiner, senior class vice president

Closing Remarks: Emma Jane Tagliaferro, senior class president

Text of President Sterritt’s brief remarks to the class:


President Sterritt accepts the 2022 yearbook dedication at the awards ceremony, her last as president before retiring in June.

What an esteemed group! I am delighted to welcome each of you.My remarks this morning are intentionally short, as I have the pleasure of addressing our graduates Sunday morning, at Commencement. So I won’t speak for more than three hours this morning!

I simply want to say to the Class of 2023, thank you for being such an important part of this community. While your relationship with the College will change with the receipt of your well-earned diploma, know that you will always be part of the Saint Michael’s family. While many individuals will be honored this morning, know that each of you has left a profound mark on our College. To the faculty and staff present and to those not here, thanks to each of you in your own way for creating the environment that has allowed our students to thrive.

And in closing, a request to the class: Today and every day, please remember that you always have a home at St. Michael’s. Please come back to visit early and often. The College will always greet you with open arms. Thank you so very much.

Text of keynote talk by Christina Root, English faculty (retiring):

Congratulations to the Class of 2023. I feel honored to have been asked to speak today. I have taught in the English Department for 34 years and am retiring as of just about now, or actually in about seven and a half minutes. Though I don’t know as many of you as I’d like personally, I have felt an invisible thread connecting me to this class, since you arrived in the fall of 2019.   That semester, I taught two sections of the First Year Seminar called “The Examined Life.” In those first weeks, I felt the exhilaration we all feel as faculty in meeting a new class and seeing their excitement over starting college. I got to see your potential as students  unfolding immediately in our discussions of that year’s common text, Francisco Cantu’s The Line Becomes a River, a book as urgently relevant now as it was then. Going into that semester, I had been thinking about the fact that my eventual retirement might be drawing closer, but I felt a strong desire to stick around long enough to see what your class would achieve, so I decided quietly to link my destiny to yours and to go through the next four years as though I too would be graduating at the end of them. I knew it would take me four years to get used to the idea of leaving a vocation that has meant so much to me and brought so much happiness.


Christina Root of the English faculty makes her keynote remarks to the Class of 2023.

I stuck to my plan even when the very next semester the pandemic upended college life, and a number of my colleagues decided to retire earlier than they had expected to. I might have considered it too, but my secret pact and sense of solidarity with the class kept me focused. I had only one brief moment of panic when an advisee from one of those seminars met with me to discuss the possibility of graduating in three years. I smiled benignly, and pretended to look at how she might manage it, all the time thinking, no, no! We can’t go yet! More time! More time!

I am glad that you got to settle in before the pandemic struck; once it did I was deeply impressed by your willingness to persevere through the rigors of all the pandemic fears and restrictions. My memory of the fall of 2020 is of empty, eerie hallways where one might see a dim, masked figure or two flitting round a corner in the distance but certainly no one near enough to talk to. In my memory, the hallways are dark—though I know that can’t be literally true. Walking toward a strange new room repurposed as a classroom, I would open the door, and, by a seeming miracle, be greeted by a room filled with students! The brightness of that room became emblematic for me not just of bright spots in a hard year, but of what has made teaching at Saint Michael’s so special under easier circumstances too. The classroom has always been a place of good cheer, where true inquiry and community thrive no matter what is happening outside it. Even so, I am grateful that this the last year of your time here has felt more like your first.

Years ago, I told my colleague, Carey Kaplan, that I had taken my teaching mantra from the English poet, William Wordsworth, who ended his long poem The Prelude with the lines “What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.” After that confession, whenever I was nervous or unsure about whether students would like the material for that day, Carey would remind me of that mantra, sometimes calling “what we have loved!” hounding me down the hall as I hurried off to class. (she swears she wasn’t being ironic) I hardly ever actually needed to worry, since students were ready to like, if not always love, what I shared with them, ready to see the significance of even the crankiest writers, and to grapple with the difficulty of their ideas and their style.  Inevitably, of course, what I learned most over the years, was that while that mantra continued to be central to my teaching, it was the students who taught ME. Every semester whether I was teaching something new or something I had loved for years, they showed me new ways to read, deeper things to discover, original and compelling insights. I am grateful for the intelligence, warmth, and good humor Saint Michael’s students bring to their studies.

Just one example of that good humor: this past semester, a student in my Victorian Novel class made a point so generous, and empathetic about a rather unsympathetic character in Middlemarch, I couldn’t help saying “Confirmed again! Saint Michael’s students are the nicest people anywhere.” After a tiny, awkward, pause another student graciously added “as are our professors,” and then high-fived the person next to him. Thus confirming another truth about SMC students: along with many other excellent things, they are very funny.

It has been a pleasure to keep to the commitment to link my journey to yours, and to watch your class make its mark on the college. I won’t give any advice, since you will hear a lot of that over the next days and weeks. If you keep the qualities you came with and then continued to develop here– your interest in others, in the world, your desire to help, your willingness to work hard to understand something initially impossibly complex and opaque, your willingness to stand up for someone who needs it, your practice of exquisite subtleties of decorum in the classroom—noticing every shift in mood and helping to smooth over rough edges so everyone can be included and heard– All those qualities will stand you in good stead. And, of course, your irrepressible humor.

But because this is the last time, I am pretty sure, that I will talk to Saint Mike’s students as a group and public speaking brings out the preacher in us all, I will unabashedly express one overarching wish for your future. I know they have grown a lot less popular over the past few years, but I hope that your lives will be full of meaningful books of all kinds, fiction, and plays old and new, philosophy, history, religion, music, science, politics, ancient and contemporary works from all over the world. And, while we’re at it, I hope you find other readers and share the books that have changed your thinking forever, passing them back and forth to one another like talismans. Of course, I don’t want you to turn into book “nerds,” as you might say, who never go outside; I want those books to propel you into the world. I hope most that you will fall in love with poetry, if you haven’t already. Poems are short and fit anywhere, especially once you memorize them. Take a poem or two in your back pocket on your walks. I hope most that you will get to know poems about nature that are crafted in such extraordinary language that they allow you to see whole new worlds nested within our own, so that spirit and matter fuse, if only momentarily, and each becomes part of a whole that, once glimpsed, gives you the help you will need to meet whatever comes toward you from the future. And, may you always be part of communities as aspiring and warm as this one. I am very grateful to have been able to be part of the Saint Michael’s community for so many years. Thank you for letting me join you as we leave this much-loved place together.


Keleher Award winners with presenter Chris Kenny in the background giving the thumbs-up.

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