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By Joel Banner Baird / The Burlington Free Press
Simple luxurious on Saturday morning - a breeze and broad shade - set the stage for Champlain College's Class of 2015 commencement in Burlington.
Beneath a white tent that spanned the Edmunds School athletic field, laughs shared air-time with tree pollen and hard-won advice.
The college's 137th graduating class trooped in as piped-in music gave way to real pipers and drummers of the St. Andrew's Society of Vermont.
Like the 424 seniors and hundreds of guests, the musicians needed no amplification.
The first whoop from the podium came from Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power and chairwoman of the Champlain College Board of Trustees, who praised the college's "institutional agility" - its ability to adapt quickly to a changing world "with a spirit of innovation and optimism."
Alumnus Raymond McCarthy Bergeron, '04, maintained the light-yet-serious tone. The Champlain education more closely resembles a Swiss Army knife - an enduring asset - than "an operating system update," Bergeron observed.
Senior Mahmoud Jabari, speaking for his graduating class, got a rock star's welcome before he even hit the stage.
Champlain College seniors cross the street to get to the commencement ceremony site Saturday in Burlington on Saturday. (Photo: Anthony Boccio/for the Free Press)
Jabari stirred the crowd with a quick portrait of his commitment to change - from a childhood in the Palestinian city of Hebron, to advancing the college's "Breakaway" video game in campaigns to counter violence against women and girls.
"Doors have been opened for us," Jabari reminded his peers. "With optimism, we now enter a world we will shape and we will embrace."
President Donald J. Laackman lightened the ceremonies with a rundown of legacies left to the class by his fellow baby-boomers: Unparalleled debt, terrorism, global warming, the greatest wealth gap since the Gilded Age "and the guilty pleasures of reality television."
A year-long brush with the Class of 2015 endowed him with a renewed sense of optimism about the world, Laackman added; and he listed the seniors' collective resume of accomplishments in Ireland, Nepal and in local neighborhoods.
Laackman awarded an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree to David Binch, a former director of the Vermont Information Technology Center.
Binch kept his advice simple: After graduation, develop a keen sense of commerce - but not at the expense of a societal commitment.
Binch, whose public-minded involvement in education remains strong, remarked, "Giving back to the community is a time-tested tradition, and we have all been better for it."
Graduating senior Neal Pavlak with his dog Mufasa walk to the commencement ceremony at Champlain College in Burlington. (Photo: Anthony Boccio/for the Free Press)
The morning's second honorary Doctor of Commerce degree went to Sara Byers, a Burlington native who, in an abrupt change of heart, left an executive position in Charlotte, N.C., to return home.
"It might contradict everything you know intellectually - but trust your instincts," Byers said.
The switch from a national clothing chain to an entry-level position at her family's pizza business wasn't easy, she said, "but it has brought me more joy than I could ever imagine."
Byers is now president of Leonardo's Pizza, and business is booming.
"When you think about it," Byers asked the crowd, "What in life is guaranteed?"
Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@FreePressMedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vtgoingup.
Read the full speeches at https://www.champlain.edu/about-champlain/newsroom
Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit champlain.edu.