St. Michael’s College in Colchester graduated 456 Purple Knight undergrads and 30 graduate degree recipients at its 110th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 14.
Hundreds packed into the Ross Sports Center to cheer on their loved ones as they crossed the dais to receive diplomas.
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, St. Michael’s Class of 1977, delivered the commencement address with the message that moral courage and a commitment to serving others are essential qualities for “leaders of consequence.”
“It’s never about you,” he said.
The nation’s highest-ranking military figure focused his speech on specific examples, all related to his alma mater, notably, his own commencement speaker, the late Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, who boldly took on McCarthyism in the early 1950s with her famous Senate speech “A Declaration of Conscience.”
She delivered the speech despite the era’s risks and pressures, inspiring others to speak out and bring an end to that dark era in U.S. history.
Dunford told graduates he later regretted not paying as close attention to her speech at his graduation as he should have – but he made up for it by learning all about Smith later on.
Other consequential leaders of moral courage he cited were priests of the college’s founding religious order, the Society of St. Edmund, particularly the Rev. Maurice Ouellet, who took a courageous stand for civil rights in Selma, Ala., during the civil rights era as part of events directly leading to Voting Rights Act.
Dunford also saluted mothers in the audience, asking them to stand in honor of the Mother’s Day ceremony.
Dunford spoke with fond nostalgia of his college memories, saying that flying into Burlington on Saturday afternoon with Sen. Patrick Leahy, SMC Class of ’61, he had the feeling of a homecoming as he looked out the window of the military aircraft that transported Dunford and his significant security entourage (a notable presence all weekend in conjunction with local police, campus security and bomb-sniffing dogs).
Sen. Leahy and with his wife, Marcelle, joined Dunford at Saturday’s baccalaureate in the chapel with Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne. The senator, an avid photographer, snapped shots all weekend and sat close to the dais Sunday, frequently moving about to record the occasion.
Both the senator and general moved into the Tarrant Center after the ceremony – which was indoors on a rainy day – to join graduates and families mingling with faculty by major.
Several others of Dunford’s “leaders of consequence” received honorary degrees of humane letters: Loung Ung ’93, a bestselling author, activist, and co-writer of a Netflix original movie based on Ung’s memoir, “First They Killed My Father;” Tracy Romano ‘86, an internationally prominent marine biologist who leads the research team at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; and Brian Lacey ’72, a veteran leader of the global entertainment business with major successes including Pokémon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The 2017 valedictorian was Ashlee Hauble from Brainerd, Minn., an environmental science major with minors in chemistry and religious studies, who earned a 4.0 GPA.
Jessica Barnett of Essex was presented the Katherine Fairbanks Memorial Award for commitment to St. Michael’s values.
The Father Prevel Memorial Award winner was Christopher Holloway of Ashburnham, Mass., a double major in psychology and theater with a 3.819 GPA.
Michael McCarthy, a sociology and anthropology major from Springfield, Mass., offered the senior class address.
Speakers also remembered several community members who died in the last year, among them the late Rev. Michael Cronogue, professor Craig Jensen, Institutional Advancement employee Donna Oles and students Jerry Collins and William Peterson, whose parents accepted their diplomas posthumously for them to extended applause.
Dunford told graduates being a leader means doing the right thing even when it’s unpopular, and that “the greatest call is to serve.”
Photos by Jerry Swope/St. Michael’s College and MC2(SW) Dominique A. Pineiro/joint chiefs staff photographer