Middlebury College graduates urged to ‘get close’

MIDDLEBURY — At Middlebury College’s 218th graduation ceremony on Sunday, student speaker Angie McCarthy confessed that during her freshman year she’d considered transferring to another school.
“I didn’t feel like I fit into this greater vision of what Middlebury was supposed to be and what it meant to be a Midd Kid,” said McCarthy, a joint Geography and Environmental Studies major from Virginia, Colorado and Malaysia. “It seemed like everyone spent their high school careers name-dropping classical philosophers, and they also happened to design a bridge in their hometown that was not only environmentally sustainable but also engaged the local moose community in building it.”
She’d been scared of her classmates, she added. She’d felt like a fluke.
Then her older brother gave her some advice, she recalled.
“Get a little closer,” he’d said. “Proximity is everything.”
So McCarthy went for it, she said, and four years later, surveying from the commencement stage an audience that numbered in the thousands, she spoke with awe and gratitude about the fruits born of having followed that advice.
   GRADUATES PREPARE TO receive their diplomas from Middlebury College this past Sunday.
Independent photo/Steve James
But her story didn’t necessarily have a happy ending.
Her peers, she explained, are wondering how they’ll have an impact. They’re afraid to become teachers or park rangers because they’re afraid of “living up to this expensive degree of ours.”
“Here’s what I’m afraid of,” she said. “By chasing this caricature of what the Best Great looks like, we lose sight of what a good human should be. When we try to achieve world change for the sake of being ‘important’ (or for the sake of achievement) we end up with admissions scandals where privileged white kids go to college for fun — and to say they did — while students of color and first-generation students have to routinely defend their right to attend institutions such as ours.”
The college’s mission statement implores students to “live consequential lives,” McCarthy recalled. And she urged care in how her peers defined “consequential,” making reference to college employee Crysta Rainey, who works in Proctor Dining Hall wiping tables, making coffee, and performing other similar tasks.
“You do not have to have a parking spot with your name on it to be great. It started with you learning ‘Proctor’s lady’s’ name — Crysta — and treating her with dignity, and continues with you knowing that if you make six figures you should probably tip your servers more than 5 percent.”
McCarthy then passed along her brother’s advice.
“Get close,” she told them. “Get really close. Get close to your pain, your privileges, your communities. Get close enough to be the change that we’re going to need.”
   KRISTA TIPPETT, THE Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, author and creator and host of “On Being,” received an honorary degree on May 26 and spoke to graduates at the 218th Commencement Ceremonies.
Independent photo/Steve James
Before conferring degrees upon the 537 members of the class of 2019, Middlebury College President Laurie Patton presented the first ever Global Citizen’s Award.
“Our intention is to recognize a person who, through their communication skills and compassion, are able to change the world with no expectation of being in the limelight — a global citizen who has been working without recognition,” Patton said.
She presented the award to Adul Samon, one of 12 boys who, along with their soccer coach, were rescued from a Thai cave last year.
“Adul took on an unexpected leadership role during the rescue operation when, due to his knowledge of four languages, he offered to translate, which enabled him to effectively communicate with the divers, asking questions and keeping his friends informed,” noted the college in a statement.
Middlebury also awarded five honorary degrees on Sunday, to:
•Judith Heumann, a lifelong champion of the rights and empowerment of disabled people.
•Jane Mayer, a celebrated journalist and author of such books as “Dark Money, The History of Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”
•David Mittelman, a 1976 graduate, longtime trustee and parent of three Middlebury graduates  (awarded posthumously).
•Chief Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in Vermont and a tireless leader in raising awareness of the rich heritage of the Abenaki and other native nations.
•Krista Tippett, a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, author and the creator and host of “On Being,” which is broadcast to more than 400 public radio stations nationwide.
Tippett also gave the commencement address, suggesting that the soon-to-be graduates should take up three callings.
“Pursue moral imagination, orient towards wholeness and practice muscular, adventurous, public love,” she told them.
   A COLLEGE STUDENT psychs up to get her degree at Middlebury’s Commencement Ceremonies on Sunday, May 26.
Independent photo/Steve James
Nearly half of the 537 seniors who graduated on Sunday claimed one of the following majors (not including joint majors):
•Economics (93 students).
•Computer science (53 students).
•Neuroscience (44 students).
•International studies and economics (32 students).
•Political science (31 students).
The valedictorian, however, majored in none of these.
Kylie Ann Winger, from Medford, Ore., majored in Literary Studies. She was the recipient of the George H. Catlin Prize, a co-recipient of the Woolsey Prizes in the Study of Sacred Texts and a co-recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Prize.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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