Service is theme at St. Michael’s graduation

COLCHESTER – A 1961 graduate of St. Michael’s College spoke to members of the newly graduated class of 2016 on Sunday about service and his own commitment to helping others.

St. Michael's College class of 2016 graduates gather in front of Durick Library for the class picture before Commencement on Sunday.

Dr. Frederick M. “Skip” Burkle Jr. addressed approximately 420 undergraduate- and 30 graduate-degree recipients during the ceremony, which had a service and volunteerism theme.

“Only at St. Mike’s,” he quipped, lauding the school for the theme.

Burkle is a global humanitarian, scholar and scientist, according to the college. He founded and directed the World Health Organization Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance in the 1990s and he has participated and consulted in humanitarian missions in Turkey, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Africa and Asia. He is an author and a scholar at Harvard and the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C. He was also invited to present research at the 2015 Nobel Laureates Summit.

“The essence of volunteerism is found in understanding the culture of the people we engage with,” Burkle said. “A hopeful characteristic of your generation is that you more often than not see yourselves less as nationalists and more as global citizens — a significant shift from my generation and a hopeful game-changer in the global landscape.”

Burkle said that when he was a student at St. Michael’s, his professors and college leaders then held up Nobel laureates and statesmen as aspirations for himself and his fellow classmates.

“Things come full circle,” Burkle said.

Along with Burkle, several others in the field of service and social justice received honorary degrees: choral arranger and conductor Robert De Cormier, whose music is motivated by passion for social justice; Rita Markley, the Executive Director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS); and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, representing Vermont agencies that help refugees and immigrants.

“Presenting a degree to an agency instead of an individual was a departure from Commencement convention, but the college leadership felt strongly about this year’s theme in light of recent world events and political currents regarding beleaguered itinerant populations,” the college stated in a news release.

Graduate degree recipient Edward J. Kruer II of Colchester, had the audience play “rock, paper and scissors” during the ceremony. He encouraged them to become a little of all three in their approach to life following graduation: a rock “ready to crush divisiveness wherever you may find it;” paper, “always flexible;” and scissors, “ever sharp.”

Jeremy Heyner of Marshfield, Massachusetts, spoke about the changes among the friends he cultivated at St. Michael’s over four years.

“Biologists have turned into environmentalists, prospective doctors into actors, business men and women into artists and vice versa,” Heyner said. “You’re some of the best people I’ve met in my 22 years of life and I wouldn’t want to walk across this stage with anyone else.”

During the ceremony, St. Michael’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino recognized 28 students graduating summa cum laude with GPA of 3.90 or higher. Briana Brady of Winsted, Connecticut, was named the valedictorian with a 3.99 GPA.

Several students were also presented with the Katherine Fairbanks Memorial Award and Father Prevel Memorial Award are for the woman and man, respectively, “demonstrating commitment and achievement related to the intellectual, spiritual, moral and social values of Saint Michael’s College.”

Victoria Barnum of Beverly, Massachusetts, was the recipient of the Fairbanks award for her activeness in student government and other school programs in addition to her volunteer position with the Burlington Little Brother/Little Sister program. Gregory Hamilton of Upton, Massachusetts received the Prevel award. Talentino noted his deep involvement in Campus Ministry and its extended service arm, MOVE, and his plans to enter the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a community organizer.

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