Burlington College celebrated the graduation of its 34th class Saturday morning at the its campus on North Avenue.
Fifty-three students earned a host of degrees at a ceremony that was marked by acknowledgements of the college's recent financial struggles and bold pronouncements for the institution's future.
President Carol A. Moore, who assumed office in February, said the future of Burlington College is bright.
"Although it has seen challenging days over the past few years … I can assure you that Burlington College's doors will be open to welcome many future generations of potential graduates."
Commencement speaker Jay Craven, an Emmy-award winning Vermont filmmaker who has taught courses at Burlington College, commended the graduating class for choosing to finish their studies when many wondered if the school would close.
"Congratulations, not just for the completion of your college studies, but for the sacrifices involved to make that happen, and for the loyalty and courage to stick with your school even when it was openly struggling to regain its footing," Craven said. "That is extraordinary."
Burlington College, founded in 1972, has weathered financial straits and internal tumult in recent years. In 2011, the board of trustees effectively forced President Jane O'Meara Sanders from office over differing visions for the school. Sanders' successor, Christine Plunkett, quit in 2014 amid allegations of financial mismanagement, including that the college had used scholarship funds to pay for operating expenses.
An interim management team guided the cash-strapped school through the final months of 2014, and sold some of its North Avenue campus to a developer for $7.5 million.
Moore, a former Lyndon State College president, came to Burlington College to help the institution get back on solid financial footing. This year, the college raised $10 million in its first major capital campaign.
College administrators said Saturday that the school's dark days are in the past, and the mood at the commencement ceremony, held outside under a tent, was upbeat.
Craven also spoke about the recent financial tumult at Burlington College, but framed the issue as one that affects colleges and universities of every size.
"American higher education as a whole stands at a crossroads where all colleges must now show innovative ways to illustrate their relevance," Craven said.
He noted how the cost of attending college has skyrocketed since he was an undergraduate, and even large private universities face budget shortfalls. He also criticized the paltry government support public universities in the U.S. receive compared to many European nations, and added that Vermont ranks second-to-last among states for per-capita funding for public universities.
"Will President Bernie Sanders change all this?" Craven said wryly, eliciting a mixture of laughter and applause from the crowd.
Craven encouraged Burlington College to celebrate its strengths, such as its moderate cost, small class sizes and strong sense of community. He also encouraged the school to experiment with new curricula. Craven cited the example of how he, as a professor at Marlboro College, teaches an intensive class through which students produce a feature film for international release.
In addition to Craven's speech, students selected Professor Dana Heffern, Chair of the Art and Design Department, for the annual faculty award. The college also recognized the exemplary efforts of one of its graduating students.
Moore bestowed the Newman Civic Scholar Award upon Masiti Mohamed, a Somali immigrant who earned a bachelor's degree in human services.
In her brief remarks, Mohamed spoke of the struggles she faced first as a child in a Kenyan refugee camp, and then while attending college full-time while also raising her five children. She encouraged her fellow graduates to look forward to their futures, but to never neglect the past.
"We should appreciate all the work we have done so far, and be ready for all that is waiting for us," Mohamed said. "We must always remember that success is not a destination, but a continuous journey."
Contact Zach Despart at 651-4826 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZachDespart.
Burlington College graduates
Samantha M. Barrett
Neil Beaudry, Ashley J. Daignault, Jill C. Drinkwater, Thomas Wesley Fuller, Colleen Erin Horigan, Shanti Mathauer, Thomas J. Rosser, Leona A. Wamsley.
Woodworking and Furniture-Making: Marcus Christopher Santa
Fine Furniture-Making: Joel Oliver Byrne, John Matthew Martin, Madeleine Sutton-Smith, Kristopher E. Ziemba.
Associate of Arts Degree
Liberal Studies: Hudson Chris Audesey, Nadia Zaki, Athena Dezmarise Pepe
Film Studies: Ivan Marrinson
Bachelor of Arts Degree
Katlyn Ann Aviles: Cinema Studies and Film Production
Integral Psychology: Taylor Dawn Bruleigh
Photography: Colin Moreschi Connor
Cinema Studies and Film Production: Brandyn A. Cummings, Kyle A. Freund
Individualized Major: Fine Arts, Lisa Aldred
Leah Breanne Fishman: Writing and Literature
Charles Everett Koop II: Integral Psychology
Nicholaus J. Maiorana: International Relations
Ned R. McEleney: Media Activism
Human Services: Masiti Hussein Mohamed, Hanni Morgentaler
DeWolfe Morrow: Cinema Studies and Film Production
Lindsey K. Mosher: Integral Psychology
Colin L. Reid: Writing and Literature
Chrystie Lee Sands: Human Services
Molly Jean Skerry: Human Services and Psychology
Melanie Rose Slatter: Hospitality and Event Management
Armando Joseph Vilaseca: Hospitality and Event Management
Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree
Nathanael Asaro-Shimaitis: Photography
Kacie Leigh Cotter-Sacala: Graphic Design
Jesse Tyler Fox: Woodworking and Fine Furniture-Making
Megan D. Hodgkins: Graphic Design
David Littlefield: Cinema Studies and Film Production
Photography: Joseph E. Lord, Heather R. Sefcik
Giuliana Paz Zamalloa: Graphic Design
Master of Arts Degree
Individualized Major: Family and Disability Studies
Nicholas J. Cartularo: Individualized Major: Film Production and Screenwriting
Michelle Renee Castro: Individualized Major: Integrative Psychology
Christopher James H. T. Cloonan: Individualized Major: Cuban Studies
Cooper Oya: Individualized Major: Creative Studies and Transpersonal Psychology
Thomas K. Edwin: Technical Theater Education
Anthony H. Wilkins: Philosophy and Creative Writing