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Graduation in Vermont


Minna at her M.A. graduation from Goddard. You can see from the tissues resting on the podium that Goddard is expecting people to cry a lot. They did.

We’ve been a little weepy here lately–not bad weepy, good weepy. Our daughter, Minna, just got her M.A. from Goddard College in Vermont, and the whole weekend event evoked tears–the good kind! In the middle of the actual graduation ceremony, I tried to borrow Murray’s handkerchief–a huge, yellow men’s hanky with striped borders– but it was already soaked.

By time Minna got up and delivered her own speech, there was not a dry eye in our posse, which included her fiance Ben, his parents Moshe and Shlomit, my son Alex and his girlfriend Lindsey. I couldn’t see Minna’s friends Allison and Jonathan or Aliyah and Alex, but I’d bet they were also pretty moved.

The design center at Goddard
The design center at Goddard

Goddard is a counter-culture bastion dedicated to societal improvement. It has a campus, but the traditional on-campus learning experience has been replaced there by low-residency study programs, many of them highly individualized, with self-directed reading and writing under the prodding of advisors and mentors who push their students to broaden their thinking and delve deeper and deeper into their subjects. The subjects are generated by the students themselves.

The percussion band in action.

I knew this would not be a traditional graduation, but I could not have predicted that it was such an experience!

Before the official ceremonies (not at all formal), one of the graduating students led a percussion performance that was really great. And when we walked in, I noticed a chair covered with a cloth and a small altar tropical-looking altar made of two candles, a photo, a shell and gourd.

The graduation speaker was none other than convicted cop killer and cause celebre Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking via audio tape from prison.

The speech was actually great–inspiring and articulate, and of course full of the usual platitudes without which a graduation speech would just be wrong. Oh, I should mention he’s a Goddard alum. His advisor presented him in an emotional talk about the amazing person he was as her student.

(Mumia has never denied that he killed Officer Faulkner. The only sense I can make of all this is as follows: 1) in spite of a biased trial, the outcome was correct, and 2) read the Tipping Point, since it in my view offers a somewhat reasonable explanation of how such an accomplished man with so much respect for sticking to the truth would have committed this heinous crime.)

the altar

After each faculty advisor presented a student’s thesis and graduate work, the student got up to talk. The explanation of the altar came when a student said the candles were for her mother and father, who had each died in the course of her two-year program. Anyone not already in tears lost it when she explained the altar.

In a way, the graduation was like the Academy Awards, with each of the graduates thanking all the people who made this day possible and supported them through the highs and the lows and the doubts.

Minna and her fiance, Ben, the night before her graduation at a fabulous dinner in Montpelier at the Black Door.

Minna’s own thesis discussed culturally imposed identities that confer powerlessness (identities like gender, race, class, etc.)–and how to teach teens to identify and overcome those identities using memoir writing.

IMG_7081 Peter Harris
Peter Harris, Recumbent Bicycle, one of a number of bicycle-theme sculptures scattered around Montpelier, sponsored by the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. For one of those community public art projects with a single theme, this one stood out, putting all the fiberglass cows, dolphins, dogs and horses to shame.

Of course we thought Minna was the best. I’m sure every family must have felt that way about their own kid. Oh, well, there were others that were really good. But really, Minna was the best.