Middlebury College sends off grads with this message: Find your passion

MIDDLEBURY — As Washington, D.C., native Kate McCreary walked to receive her college diploma on Sunday, she breathed a sigh.
“I was kind of relieved, both to have a college diploma and also to have the graduation over so I can sleep a little bit,” the freshly minted Middlebury College alum said. “I feel celebratory and excited! It didn’t really make me sad.”
This past Sunday 552 Middlebury College seniors donned mortarboards and bade farewell to their alma mater in a ceremony on the central lawn of the campus. Proud parents, family and friends cheered as the class of 2015 found their seats under a cloudy but warm sky.
Sunday marked Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz’s final commencement at Middlebury, a role he has filled since 2004. Duke University Dean Laurie Patton will assume the presidency of Middlebury College on July 1.
Student Commencement Speaker Adam Milano opened the ceremony on a lighthearted note. A theater major and education minor from New Jersey, Milano observed to a chuckling crowd that “it is with the class of 2015 that (President) ‘Leave-o-quits’; it’ll be a different place when he has ‘Gone Liebowitz.’”
On a more serious note, Milano noted that college, while often touted as the best four years of any young person’s life, can sometimes prove difficult.
“To our juniors, sophomores and incoming class: accomplish, succeed, work hard. But don’t be scared to admit when it’s hard,” he said. “Admit when you’re stressed. Admit when you’re lonely. Admit when you’re struggling. Because that admittance takes true courage. Because that is when what is most beautiful about Middlebury comes out. How amazing would it be, if everyone were authentic about sometimes how hard this journey might be.”
Milano also noted that his favorite memories of Middlebury did not necessarily come from coursework:
“When I look back at my college experience, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t that subpar paper I may or may not have written for my last midterm. What comes to mind is watching the sunrise with friends after we stayed up all night.”
Featured commencement speaker Julia Alvarez echoed Milano’s sentiment, noting that throughout the years “all that I am, and all that I have accomplished, has come about through the investment of so many people.
“It’s been a long, hard winter,” Alvarez said, remembering Middlebury professor Robert Prash, staff member Kelly Boe, and student Nathan Alexander, all of whom died this past year. “With each loss our community began to see the things that really mattered. How best to take care of each other.”
Alvarez, the college’s writer-in-residence, herself graduated from Middlebury in 1971. The celebrated writer has authored acclaimed novels “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of Butterflies,” as well as several collections of poems, including “The Other Side/El Otro Lado” and “Homecoming.”
While Alvarez in her address to the students conceded that “no commencement speaker can give you a roadmap for what lies ahead,” she advised members of the class of 2015 to find their passions. “First things first, let (your work) be something so you can say, ‘I do this because I have a soul.’ Don’t settle for less.”
The college awarded Alvarez an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters. Honorary degrees also went to Hilary Hahn, the three-time Grammy Award-winning violinist and alumna of the Middlebury Language Schools; Martin Chalfie, recipient of a 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Harvard Law School Professor Eric Nelson; and Weybridge Elementary School Principal Christina Johnston. Four Middlebury professors were also awarded tenure during the ceremony.
The class of 2015 itself boasted an impressive array of talent, with valedictorian Qian Zhe Zhang and two salutatorians, Catherine Costley and Michael Martini. Also notable was the class’ volume of national recognition, with three Fulbright Scholars, a Truman Scholar, two Phi Beta Kappa Prize recipients, and a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow. The graduating class included international students from the United Kingdom, South Korea, Swaziland, China, Mexico, Switzerland, Taiwan and Iraq, among other nations.
The class of 2015’s parting gift came in the form of the Fund for Abroad Experience, which will fund future students’ internships, externships and volunteer experiences abroad. As of Sunday’s ceremony, the fund had received $62,131 in donations. President Liebowitz praised the senior class for their gift, noting the importance of internships in landing full-time work, but also the difficulties facing many students who must choose between unpaid internships or making money over the summer.
“Many internships, including international internships, are unpaid,” Liebowitz said. “So I am particularly grateful to the seniors for picking the Fund for Abroad Experience as their class gift.  It is a generous and thoughtful way to provide future students with life-changing experiences.”
The ceremony concluded with a group sing of Middlebury songs “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane” and “Alma Mater,” after which the new graduates flung their mortarboards into the air. 
Ben Bogin, a San Francisco Bay area native who plans to pursue a career in the tech industry, spoke for many of his fellow graduates when he spoke about the mixed emotions of looking back on the past four years while also being excited for what lies ahead.
“I’m sad its over, but overall I’m happy, and have a sense of accomplishment,” he said.
Donations for the Fund for Abroad Experience are being accepted until June 20; for more information go to middstart.middlebury.edu/the-class-of-2015-and-2015-5-fund-for-abroad-experiences.
WEYBRIDGE AUTHOR AND Middlebury College professor Julia Alvarez delivers Middlebury College’s commencement address Sunday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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