CASTLETON — As the oldest university in Vermont celebrated its 232nd commencement, former governor James Douglas begged students to remain, to build their lives, careers and families in Vermont, where the population is fast decreasing and aging.

“The implications of this trend are serious,” Douglas said. “Higher health-care costs but fewer caregivers. Fewer employees, fewer innovators, no growth in our tax base. Why aren’t more Vermonters choosing to make Vermont their home?”

Vermont is not an affordable place to live, Douglas said, encouraging immigration to Vermont, easing regulatory burdens on local businesses, and encouraging the youth to stake their claims where they received their diplomas.

“Please, we need you to stay,” Douglas said.

Douglas then hailed the graduates as being the future of civil discourse in a deeply polarized country.

“Today’s politicians seem to be competing in a contest to see who is most ideologically pure,” Douglas said. “Without compromise, a government quickly descends into gridlock, and to the erosion of civility.”

“Never has the world needed these graduates more,” said Castleton University President Dr. Karen Scolforo. “I believe in the future they are so intent to build, and I have great optimism because of what the class has already helped to accomplish.”

Scolforo praised the students for their drive and initiative, crediting them for helping to grow the university in their school sports, opportunities abroad, expansion of programs at the university and with the over 400 community partners, and contributing more community service hours than any previous class of graduates.

“You have even saved lives,” Scolforo continued. “I look forward to admiring your accomplishments, to cheering you on from the sidelines. … As you move on to your next great adventure, I hope you will never forget your way back home.”

Douglas assumed the podium, urging students to try to stay in the Green Mountain State, as they represented the strongest hope for Vermont’s economic, social, commercial and educational future.

“As a state, we’re getting older and smaller,” Douglas said. “Since 2010, our population has grown more slowly than any state but one.”

More people are leaving Vermont than are staying, Douglas said, and the kindergarten-through-12th grade enrollment has dropped over 20% in the past two decades, while Vermont has the highest rate of college students leaving their home state to pursue educational degrees in other places, often never to return.

The Alumni Association’s Outstanding Faculty Award, greeted by a resounding and roaring applause from the audience, was given to Dr. Patricia Van der Spuy, and the Leonard C. Goldman Distinguished Senior Award to a “walking celebration of a person” who was “not afraid to take risks, make mistakes, and create change:” James Wolfe.

Jonathan Spiro, chief academic officer, graced Media and Communications professor Andrew Wilson with the Oustanding Part-Time Faculty Award, and the Richardson Award went to Dr. Preston Garcia, who Scolforo hailed as securing $500,000 for students and numerous opportunities both in school and beyond, and being an outstanding teacher and researcher.

Kathleen “KC” Ambrose, chief justice of the Student Court, community advisor and member of the Vermont National Guard, and president of the Senior Class, was recently commissioned as a second lieutenant of the Vermont National Guard.

“When we fail, our natural instinct is to give up,” Ambrose asserted. “But it makes us stronger than we could ever imagine. … When you try your hardest to be the best, it’s not an easy shot to the top. … Give yourself the freedom to fail.”

Ambrose pressed seniors to crest over the often seemingly insurmountable climb of life’s obstacles, assuring them that they would not only live to see the victories of their trials, but would emerge as more capable versions of their former selves.

The room, standing room only, seemed to burst with hope as each of the seniors hugged or greeted Scolforo as she presented them with their well-earned diplomas in her first commencement ceremony.

“As I gaze at the faces of our graduates, I see the future,” Scolforo said. “We look to our youth leaders for solutions, for diplomacy and for action. … This is the place that inspired you to make a difference. See you at homecoming.”

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com

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