—This article, written by June Pichel Cook, appeared originally on May 8, 2019 in the Hardwick Gazette. We are grateful for permission to reprint it.
CRAFTSBURY – The Sterling College Commencement exercises on Saturday celebrated the achievement of 31 men and women with all the warmth and joy of a family festival. The mood was authentic in exuberance, synergy, and vitality that personify a vibrant community.
Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Ken Gibbons welcomed the Class of 2019, family and friends, noting it was a special day and milestone for the 31 graduates as they leave Sterling and embark on their own paths.
Sterling College President Matthew Derr introduced commencement speaker, Dr. Vandana Shiva, internationally known environmentalist and activist. A large, circular rug behind the podium was presented as a gift to her from the Sterling students. The wet-felted rug was made of wool sheared from Sterling sheep, washed, carded, and picked by students. Draft horses were used as the power to roll the rug and made 20 laps around the Common rolling and compressing it. In wet felting, wool is layered, water and compression applied, causing the fibers to hook and weave together into a single piece. The symbolic seeds woven into the rug represent the Sterling College culture and honor the Abenaki heritage.
Derr’s remarks that the planet has entered a period of climate, ecological, and biodiversity breakdown were amplified in Dr. Shiva’s impassioned address (see related article). She was applauded with a long, standing ovation.
A musical interlude by Joe Baptiste, Nora Frank, Jake Garner, AnnaLisa Mayer, and Lara Weise ’21, was both winsome and evocative, joyful and celebratory. Student speakers Savannah Elisabeth Storch and Joe Baptiste spoke eloquently to their peers. Storch suggested humorously how everyone asks: “How did you hear about Sterling College?” It wasn’t Facebook or hearing of a Sterling College Football team, she said wittily, but it was Dr. Laura Spence, Dean of Academics, and realizing that sustainable agriculture and ecology are mutual disciplines.
She focused on the theme of diversity and the symbiosis inherent in the natural world in a different way. Each classmate’s journey, despite sharing 4 years together, had been far from the same, Storch noted. For some, it was being the first one in the family to graduate from college; for some, a struggle finding funds; for some, 4 years of introspection; and for some, it meant carving out a community. Although each graduate receives a Bachelor of Arts degree, what that conveys for each graduate is very different, but intrinsic is an advocacy for the environment.
“We shaped each other’s experiences,” she said.
Baptiste recounted with humor his arriving at the college 4 years and 4 days ago because he had come 4 days early and slept in a hammock slung between trees. Embracing silence and being present with the land was something he had learned and asked the gathering to “just listen to the silence.” The silence that prevailed for a few minutes was unbroken.
He talked about ending an 85-day course of study in the Southwest and arriving in Arizona, only to find it unexpectedly as cold, blustery, and wet as Vermont.
In reflecting, Baptiste said it was meeting challenges and always getting ready every time and everywhere we go, celebrating a journey for more experiences to come. He learned how ephemeral life is and how important it is to accept challenges, to give and to receive love, to be compassionate, to not let opportunity pass by, to make a difference in the world, to keep one’s mentors and learn from them, to be a good leader and mentor oneself.
Dr. Spence introduced each student and explained his/her major field of study. Degrees ranged from sustainable agriculture, cultural ecology and anthropology, natural resource management, outdoor education, environmental humanities to self-designed majors in landscape design, writing, place-based education, social justice, and environmental activism.
Receiving degrees were Joe Baptiste, Eli Andreas Barlow, Lewis Winston Bell, Victoria Cassidy Drew Cope, Lily Cretekos-Gross, Eliza Dery, Alexandra Elyse Dick, Kaitlin M. Elgrim, Grant Fessler, Nora J. Frank, Jake Alexander Garner, Genevieve Elsie Gorjance, Eli M. Gurvitch, Yara Nicte Herrarte Z, Margaret Nadine Lynas, AnnaLisa Mayer, Sabina Quiroz Mújica, Colin Edward Netzley, Nikesha Punche, Emily Fisher Ribet, Emma Rose Roger, Jonathan Shapiro, Erza Julien Stark, Fern Carina Steficek, Emma Grace Stein, Savannah Elisabeth Storch, Devin Charles Straley, Brittany Nicole Strobel, Allison Claire Summerly, Araya Tegan, Greyson Stratton Weltyk.
Bagpiper Thomas Kirkpatrick let the Procession and closing recessional.