BENNINGTON -- The big white tent at Southern Vermont College could hardly fit the graduating class of 2013, with all its friends and family and college faculty and staff.
"Next year we may need a larger tent," President Karen Gross noted, back from her yearlong stint as a senior education advisory in Washington, D.C.
Congratulating the 119 graduating students, whom she said the college had seen flourish in academics, clubs, and athletics, Gross said she remained optimistic despite issues globally and nationally, "including our fair share here at SVC -- I see many reasons to be optimistic about the future."
Causes for optimism, Gross told students, were the life works of Saturday's three honorary degree recipients, as well as the "remarkable persistence" of people who are always capable of learning. Gross said she returned from Washington a less cynical person. "My basis for optimism is grounded in all of you, both in terms of what you have done at SVC and what you will do when you leave us," she said. "Remember: You hold the power of possible in your hands."
All three commencement speakers came from Washington and had varied words for graduates.
Michael J. Astrue, a former commissioner of Social Security, said conventional wisdom would have called his life after college a string of failures: beginning with his class commencement speaker who showed up drunk. Astrue said he graduated with no money, no job, no plan -- and engaged to a classmate who also met all three criteria. "And yet conventional wisdom can say whatever it wants, I wouldn't have had it any other way."
The harder path of following his passion turned out better in the end.
"The key here is don't be temped by the expectations of others; it's your life," Astrue concluded. "Get up every day and do something that stirs your passion."
"Mission matters." Committing to a cause, to someone you love, "those are the decisions that will lead to happiness despite any hardships along the way," Astrue said.
The day's second speaker, Janice Lachance, the chief executive officer of the Special Libraries Association, expressed her gratitude for having the opportunity to participate. "Commencements are inspiring occasions ... but it's you that inspires me," she told graduates. In a world constantly changing, when wrestling with tough decisions, Lachance told students to think back to their college days.
"Open your arms to change, but never let go of your values," she said paraphrasing the Dalai Lama.
"Believe you can make a difference, and not just a living." Lachance acknowledged that students likely wouldn't remember who spoke at their graduation years later, "but I promise I'll remember being here for you."
U.S. Army Brigadier General Barrye L. Price told graduates that time was what they had the most of at the moment, some talent -- and not much treasure. Over time, the balance of those three will shift, and "I'd encourage you to give, give, give."
"Know that you are no longer who you were prior to this graduation. This event is one of life's defining moments. You've had a transformative experience -- be transformed by it," Price said.
Paraphrasing Jackie Robinson, Price said a life was not important but for the impact it has on others.
"The world awaits you, Mountaineers, carpe diem -- seize the day."
The baccalaureate degree Valedictorian was Scott Lippacher of Johnsonville, N.Y. The baccalaureate degree Salutatorian student was Tanjot Dhaliwal of Danbury, Conn.
In the associate's degree program, the Valedictorian student was Graylyn Johnson of Bennington. The Salutatorian was Marie Hawley of North Bennington. Prior to the keynote addresses, two SVC graduates, Diana Rusakovich of Auburn, Mass., and Katelyn Duprey of Middlesex, offered their classmates parting remarks.
Three traditional awards were presented to graduating students. The William A. Glasser Award, honoring a student for achieving outstanding personal and academic growth while at the college, was given to Shawnee Webster of Hoosick Falls, N.Y. The Lynda Curry Memorial Award, honoring the graduate who best exemplifies the fulfillment of the college's mission, was given to Hershey Canta of Los Angeles, Calif. The Edward H. Everett Award, acknowledging numerous contributions to the Southern Vermont College community, was presented to Angela Colby of Londonderry, N.H.
Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org