POULTNEY — For those who have attended Green Mountain College, the school motto "Lux Fiat," which translates to "Let there be light," means more than looking on the brighter side of things. Students emerge from Green Mountain College with a mission: They must be the light in the world. Hundreds of people gathered on the library green Saturday for GMC's 181st commencement. Students congregated at United Methodist Church on Main Street for the long walk to the green, hoisting flags from their home countries, representing Black Lives Matter, PRIDE, and the LGBTQ community, connecting their identities and communities to their academic achievement. "There were two main themes throughout the ceremony," said GMC President Robert Allen. "Our environmental mission, and dedication to social justice." In his speech, Allen assured students that though they may not have a plan for immediately after college, they aren't alone: when Allen asked alumni from the 1960s what the most important lesson they learned at the college was, one woman said "Always have a plan B." "She said her life had not turned out the way she had planned at age 20, but it had been fulfilling in so many more ways that she could have imagined," Allen said. "It would not have been as fulfilling or enjoyable had she stuck with plan A. So, make plans but do not forget to live in and enjoy the moment. Keep your heart and mind open to all the possibilities, and be ready with Plan B." The ceremony featured invocations from graduates Hope Aguilero, Julie Brennan and Simon James, and a commencement address by Doctor of Humane Letters Mustafa Santiago Ali, a senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to connecting hip hop culture to social movements to broaden their impact. After quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ali went on to encourage the audience not to lose faith in their connection with one another, especially in the face of adversity found in the U.S. government. "With an administration that has forgotten their responsibilities, we also see that men and women of good conscience are coming together to make change happen," Ali said. "We also know that we have power in this process." The event also featured class speakers Dominic Royster-Wright and Bonnie Nightingale, who has been pursuing her bachelor of arts in biology for 18 years. "She was the first prospective student I met in 2016," Allen said. "She has two daughters, and spent a great deal of time pursuing the degree. It meant a great deal to her." Nightingale said in her speech, "I abandoned the expectations of others, and I began to search for purpose and satisfaction within myself ..." She explained that she was raised under a different set of values, and was home-schooled as a child, having to overcome adversity at every turn with the urge she felt to a broadened perspective and enlightenment. "It was a drive to go beyond surviving," Nightingale said. Through countless jobs, substance abuse, failed relationships, and the birth of her two daughters, Nightingale continued pursuing her degree, course by course, until she finally found herself at the podium in her own graduation gown. "In the end, my draw to this community, to a school rooted in environmental conservation and sustainable living, outweighed all of the absurdity," Nightingale said. After a final benediction by campus Chaplain Shirley Oskamp, friends and family watched their loved ones walk across the library concrete and accept the rolled-up degree certifying excellence in their chosen field of study, and a personal mission to continue working to benefit the world. A release said 70 students graduated with bachelor of arts degrees, with 12 graduating summa cum laude, while 32 students graduated with a bachelor of science degree, with five graduating summa cum laude. Five students graduated with a master's degree in business administration, and 58  graduated with a master's degree in science. "I don't remember ever sitting through a commencement when I felt such pride from the families who attended," said Laurie Martin, vice president of college advancement. Going forward, Allen said Monday, GMC will offer new courses, and hire a host of new employees, including a vice president of enrollment management and a chief of diversity. "We want to give students the opportunity to study a single concentration and get off campus more," the president said. "So we're launching a three-week block study in the beginning of the fall semester, and at the end of the spring semester."

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