Senior Awards Brunch a time to honor scholars, athletes, servants

By: Mark Tarnacki
senior brunch round table

As much as any Saint Michael's tradition, the Senior Awards Brunch celebrates the unique sense of community at the college, said President Jack Neuhauser near the start of the 2014 edition in Alliot's dining room mid-day Thursday before Commencement weekend. That warm community feeling and support is the distinguishing quality of the college that he hears about most from grateful alumni, the president said.

His brief remarks and a welcome from Alumni Director and emcee Angela Armour along with the opening prayer from Campus Minister Anna Lester began this annual recognition of scholars and athletes, faith-based service volunteers and tour guides, diversity champions and journalists, firefighters and student government leaders, along with faculty and staff favorites whom the class members choose to honor.

On Wednesday night for seniors, the president hosted a cookout under a huge tent in the 300s field on a beautiful evening, with steak and strawberry shortcake on the menu. Sodexho chefs turned out fine quiche, pastries, fruit, ham and salad for the brunch and earned applause for their efforts. Pre-award speakers selected by the class were Jeremy Brown, associate director of admission, who noted they were the first group he had helped recruit when he started at the college; and Michael Bosia, associate professor of political science, who shared how experiences overseas with members of this outstanding class inspired him to become a more fearless scholar.

Many of the Thursday's awards at the brunch are named for well-known or inspirational figures in the college's history. Winners this year were:

Dr. Marie J. Henault Award: This honor for the student "who has contributed in some way to women's issues both on and off campus" went to Madison Sommers. Presenter Julia Berberan of the campus Center for Women and Gender said that Sommers has been a dedicated volunteer at the center for four years and a "passionate feminist" with a Gender Studies major. "For her remarkably impressive senior capstone project, she collaborated with Saint Mike's Fire & Rescue to develop the first ever Domestic Violence Response Training for EMT's," Berbaran said.

Elizabeth A. Durick Award: This honor for the senior who has "made a significant contribution to the Christian goals of the college" went to Maura Grogan. Presenter Fr. Brian Cummings SSE '86 noted how Grogan was involved in virtually every liturgical ministry for the 7 p.m. student Masses; was a leader in peer ministry programs and faith-sharing groups, coordinated Taize prayer, joined Lenten Way of the Cross celebrations, and was part of  service trips to New Orleans and New York City.

Frank G. Mahady Memorial Award: This honor for the senior who "best demonstrates the qualities of moral leadership and social justice" important to Judge Mahady H'91, and who shows potential to contribute significantly to peace and social justice, went to Kirsten Wilson, an English and international studies major. Presenter Heidi St. Peter, director of the MOVE service volunteer arm of Edmundite Campus Ministry, said Wilson joined service extended trips to Appalachia and Kolkata, India, spent a semester abroad in Uganda, and led a later trip back to Kentucky. One early college summer she longboarded across Vermont to raise awareness and money for a school in Sudan. She also was part of campus initiatives to help the Congo, the environment, global AIDS suffers, laborers, and women, and she interned with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, working with marginalized populations.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Society Award:  This honor for seniors promoting interracial understanding as exemplified by Dr. King, was shared by Marlyn Semexant and April Hoyt. Presenter Moise St. Louis, associate dean of students/director of multicultural services, talked of Semexant's lovably "crazy laugh" and her amazing resilience and ability to "just keep it moving." He said the sociology and anthropology major and psychology minor was a leader in the MLK Society and Diversity Coalition, a resident assistant, an administrative coordinator of the multicultural campus host program and a peer mentor leader, showing "amazing energy and contributions" to both. Saint Louis said he has watched Hoyt's growth and work "with awe" as she has made her way through college by working two jobs, often allowing little sleep, while also mentoring peers and leading the MLK Society as president one year and helping lead the Diversity Coalition before that; also, Hoyt kept a 3.99 GPA with a double-major, while helping first-generation collegians navigate college bureaucracy -- all without ever complaining or exhibiting any self-pity.

Roger F. Keleher' 15 Memorial Awards:   This honor for the outstanding scholar-athletes of the college's graduating class who maintain high scholastic averages – presented since 1954 –went to Amanda Brigante and Chris George. Brigante is a member of the softball program, and George played men's soccer. A four-year softball player, and a three-year starter at second base, Brigante is a computer science major with a mathematics minor. She maintains a 3.992 cumulative grade-point average, and holds membership in the Phi Beta Kappa (liberal arts and sciences), Pi Mu Epsilon (mathematics), Delta Epsilon Sigma (Catholic), and Chi Alpha Sigma (college athlete) honor societies. She made the Northeast-10 Conference Commissioner's Honor Roll seven times and was named NE-10 Academic All-Conference in 2012. She also volunteered with Special Olympics Vermont and ran in Relay for Life and Colchester CanSurVive 5K, both of which provide critical support for cancer research and patient care. After graduation, she will begin her career as a database administrator for Vermont's Fletcher Allen Health Care. Chris George, a two-year captain and a four-year defensive starter for men's soccer, is a double major in accounting and economics, with a 3.694 GPA. He holds membership in the Sigma Beta Delta (business, management and administration), Omicron Delta Epsilon (economics) and Chi Alpha Sigma (college athlete) honor societies, and has qualified for the NE-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll five times. An NE-10 Academic All-Conference selection as both a junior and a senior, he was also named Capital One NCAA Division II Academic All-District in 2012. He served on the college's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and graduated from the Purple Knight Leadership Academy He has also been committed to service, participating in an extended service trip to Guatemala, working on constructing a new school. He has accepted a position with McGladrey LLP in Boston, and will begin his career with the public accounting firm after graduation. Director of Athletics Geri Knortz M'05 presented the awards.

John D. Donoghue Award

This award for a notable leader from one of the college' student publications, named for John Donoghue '32, "Christian, gentleman, journalist and teacher," went to Mikala Kane, executive editor of the student newspaper The Defender. For decades, John Donoghue's son Michael Donoghue, a journalism adjunct at the college and veteran Burlington Free Press reporter, has presented the award, but due to an injury, the department chair Traci Griffith did the honors, noting how Kane helped lead coverage of a union controversy on campus, earning major recognition in a regional competition judged by media pros. She tackled tough stories and strived to be "balanced, fair and serious minded," said Griffith, noting Kane was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar and in the journalism honorary society.

This year's yearbook dedication was to Carey Kaplan, retiring professor of English, who received a standing ovation from colleagues, students and administrators for her many decades as a respected professor, scholar and endearing persona at the college. Yearbook editor Jackilyn Chisholm'15 read stories from colleagues illustrating Kaplan's one-of-a-kind personality and gifts.

The Reverend Gerald E.  Dupont Awards, given to those dedicated to "the ideals of courage, vision, devotion and faith upon which Saint Michael's college was founded," went to student Bernadette Beary, who was honored for her leadership in MOVE and the Student Association, and as an Orientation Leader. She was described by presenters Brendan Long and Caitlin Shea-Vantine, Student Association president and vice president respectively, as an inspirational woman and "ray of sunshine." Dupont Awards for faculty/staff went to Todd Wright, director of the Wilderness Program and associate dean of students, and Will Marquess, English instructor, for their inspiring interactions with students and willingness to always help and listen.

senior brunch photo two

The Saint Michael's Award for the "member of the class who for four years has been involved or the betterment of the class and the community, signifying unselfish commitment to others," went to Lauren DiBona. Presenter Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs/dean of students, said DiBona majored in biology with a chemistry minor while being a leader in student programming of all sorts; she also has been a tour guide, orientation leader, MOVE volunteer, and attended a Campus Ministry LEAP retreat.

Co-chairs of the Senior Class Gift – Christopher Allen, Katherine Anderson and Sarah Hiers – reported that members voted to give funds to an area that means most to each individual, from Financial Aid to Study Abroad and beyond. They said 172 class members contributed, for a 41 percent participation rate, amounting to more than $2,300. They thanked Jen Conetta of Institutional Advancement for her leadership of the Gift effort, with flowers.

Senior Class President Grace Barney and Vice President Nicholas Kyratzis made the Senior Class Awards. Class Appreciation Awards went to Dragan Fresl, who drives the campus bus and is a favorite of students for his friendly personality, interesting conversations and overall helpfulness; Valerie Banschbach of the biology faculty; Campus Minister Jason Moore; and associate dean of students Jonathan D'Amore, all for their approachability and helpfulness to class members. Community Service Awards went to Mike Brown for his work on MOVE trips, with Green Up environmental work, as an orientation leaders and his for his work with divestment; to Chris Allen, a varsity athlete, member the Active Minds Club, chair of the Senior Class Gift Committee, orientation leader and Pre-Orientation Weekend leader; to Alex Bryne for her involvement with Founders Society, Campus Ministry retreats, VITA and MOVE within Campus Ministry; and to Alex Ieronimo, who did broadcast work for Purple Knights basketball, ran Student Association meetings, joined extended service trips and was a Writing Center volunteer.

The Donald Sutton Award, presented to a vital member of the Fire and Rescue team, went to Mike Boudreau, a history and education major who stepped up this past year in particular helping fight a fire in a student townhouse, and was immersed in the SMFR squad for all four years.

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