BENNINGTON — Michael Donoghue, an award-winning investigative journalist, spoke a single word when he took to the podium for Southern Vermont College's 89th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday.
"Curiosity," Donoghue, the honorary degree recipient, said before returning to his seat, drawing cheers and uproar from the crowd, the loudest of which came from the 126 graduates.
Ten seconds passed before the longtime reporter with the Burlington Free Press returned to the podium to deliver the rest: "I thought if I said one impressionable word, you might remember your commencement speech."
Donoghue drew upon his career as an investigative journalist and reminded graduates of the five Ws: Who, what, where, when, and why. Graduates are armed with analytical skills refined with help from SVC faculty, he said. Asking questions will help graduates in their jobs, family, life and community, he said, no matter their occupation.
Curiosity, "the strong desire to learn or know more about an important issue," will be essential.
"Curiosity will help you find the answers you need," he said.
Hundreds gathered on the lawn of the college's Everett Mansion as 123 students received bachelor's degrees, one student an associate's degree and five students received certificates for completing the College Steps program. The BA valedictorian was Cynthia Stanton Richards of Greenland, N.H., and salutatorian, Stacy Lynn Fowler of Readsboro.
Two graduates were recognized for publishing their first novels through the Shires Press Publishing Program. College President David Reed Evans was presented signed copies of "A Brother's Love" by Cameron Michael Curtiss of Milton, and "A Gray Man" by Lucas Charles Gelheiser of Pownal
Graduate Chelsey Anne Gallup, a biological science major from Wilmington, said her true passion has been for the sciences. She found comfort in numbers and facts. But taking other courses at SVC, she realized the firm facts of science "can't fully encompass the humanity of the world." She said "the attention and dedication shown to me by professors" impacted her most.
She also reflected on her experience as a nontraditional student.
"It doesn't matter where we came from. What matters is the journey we've taken together," she said.
Quoting Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Enterprise from "Star Trek the Next Generation," she said: "Inside you is the potential to make yourself better... and that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are."
"It's time for our metamorphosis," said Dolapo Ezekiel Olugbile, a Radiologic Sciences major from Laurel, Md.
He reflected on his experience on the basketball team, thanking basketball coach Dan Engelstad for his support. He congratulated students on academic and numerous athletic accomplishments, as well as countless hours giving back to the community.
"Our positive impact has settled in the community around us. Now it's time to bless the rest of the nation with our will, our passion and positive attitudes," he said.
Donoghue also spoke of graduates' volunteer work, service learning projects and other civic engagement. That bucks a trend, he said, of many people not paying attention to civic and community issues. He encouraged graduates to continue being engaged in their communities, whereever they may end up.
"Don't let others make decisions for you," he said.
Donoghue graduated from St. Josephs College in 1971, three years before the school became SVC.
"While the name of the college has changed, we share the common experience of learning from an extraordinary faculty, in a wonderful town, in a beautiful setting, with an excellent chance to grow," he said.
English professor Jennifer Burg, who came to SVC in 2012, spoke of the first graduating class as "the biggest teaching and learning experience of her professional life."
"Together we learned all we can do is the best we can, until we know better," she said in closing remarks. "And what we know better, we do better. What you have done here since we arrived has made me better, and I am grateful."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979