Southern Vermont College graduates 120 students on Saturday
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | May 12,2013
Photo by Max Flatow
Students march to Southern Vermont College’s commencement ceremony.
BENNINGTON — While the rain was heavy at times, spirits were light Saturday among the 120 members of Southern Vermont College’s class of 2013.
At the college’s 86th commencement, students heard from three speakers with ties to the federal government. They were invited by SVC President Karen Gross, who spent most of 2012 in Washington, D.C., as a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education.
Gross told the graduates that she learned a lot in her time in the nation’s capital and believed it demonstrated that people could be “lifelong learners.”
“The capacity to learn, instilled here at SVC to our graduates, is what allows you to enter the next phase of your lives, ready to engage with new information, new people, new ways of thinking,” Gross said. “This is what enables you to find solutions, to explore new approaches, to develop your imagination and to not be scared of changing sands.”
Brigadier Gen. Barrye Price, an Army general, asked students to think about how they wanted to be perceived and suggested they could probably say they were Mountaineers, the name of SVC’s athletic teams.
Janice Lachance, CEO of the Special Libraries Association, gave the students advice but also talked about what it was like to spend time visiting Southern Vermont College.
“I have to tell you, I have loved these last two days here with you,” she said. “You’ve been inspiring, you’ve been outgoing, you’ve been generous and I’m so very proud to join this graduating class. I know that in the years ahead, when people ask you about who spoke at your commencement, you probably won’t remember — yeah, tell the truth — but I promise, I will remember being here with you.”
Michael Astrue, former commissioner of Social Security and a former biotech CEO, said his post-college professional life didn’t follow “conventional wisdom,” but he said following his own path gave him a rewarding life which he hoped would inspire the graduating students.
“The key here is don’t be trapped by the expectation of others,” Astrue said. “It’s your life and you owe it to yourself to get up every single morning to do something that stirs your passion. It’s not your classmate’s life. It’s not your teacher’s life. It’s not about achieving someone else’s dream for you.”
Student speaker Diana Rusakovich of Auburn, Mass., representing those who earned an associate’s degree, talked about making a new best friend with a background very different from her own. She said the experience demonstrated the value of keeping an open mind about new people.
“I may have not chosen to attend one of the largest universities around but I was, and I still am, proud of my school for being so small yet mighty,” she said, “and even more grateful for meeting here a best friend that I will have for life.”
Katelyn Duprey of Middlesex, representing students who earned a bachelor’s degree, called herself a “country girl” and described her college career as a “long and crazy road.” She also referred to the look of the Everett Mansion, the college’s main building.
“How many of us get to say we went to the real-world equivalent of Hogwarts,” she said, referencing the school attended by Harry Potter.
The college has had some difficult times in recent months. James Beckwith, who was acting president while Gross was in Washington, committed suicide in February just as the U.S. attorney’s office alleged he had embezzled $400,000 from the college. In April, college officials learned that the accreditation of its nursing program will not be renewed.
Gross acknowledged those problems briefly during the ceremony, saying, “We have had our share (of issues) this semester at SVC.”
She added that the college had “weathered adversity and that makes us stronger as a college and as a people.”