People & Places

Madeleine Kunin: After a 2-year Covid break, graduations are back

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Middlebury College's 2019 graduation, the last in-person commencement until this year. Courtesy photo

Madeleine M. Kunin, who was a three-term governor of Vermont, is author of "Red Kite, Blue Sky," a book of poetry and “Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties."

“I don’t watch the news anymore,” a friend told me. “It’s too depressing.” 

These are dark days, but life goes on and there are bright spots — the season for high school and college graduations is one. 

I attended my granddaughter’s commencement at Middlebury College in early June. What joy! Everybody seated row by row in folding chairs was smiling. It was one of those beautiful blue-sky, bright, sunny late spring days with a gentle breeze that made it difficult to keep my hat on. The green manicured lawn set the stage.

My granddaughter finished college two years ago without a graduation — it was canceled by  Covid.

College President Laurie Patton made up for that omission by organizing a complete baccalaureate and commencement ceremony. No one seemed restless or bored. We enjoyed every moment of pomp and circumstance — three hours didn’t seem too long. It was, we knew, a day to remember. 

Eighty-five percent of the students from the class of 2020 came back for graduation. It turned into a reunion. Most students hadn’t seen one another for two years. Their adult lives — away from college — had already begun, by working or further study.

There was so much to share with their friends — so many group photographs to take, in addition to parents and grandparents. The long wait for  this commencement made this graduation even more memorable than had it followed a normal pre-Covid schedule.

I have been invited to speak at many commencements in the past — high school and college. They are never routine. I remember a ceremony in the Northeast Kingdom when each young woman, wearing a white gown, held a red rose in her hands and every boy wore a white boutonniere.

Graduation from high school may have been a first time achievement for some of their families. In these difficult times, when we are exposed to gun crimes and war deaths which grieve us, we return to our families for solace — and are grateful for who they are.

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Madeleine May Kunin

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