My daughter-in-law received her Ph.D. on Saturday afternoon at Commencement ceremonies at the University of Vermont. Congratulations, Julie! We love you!
The Commencement speaker was Madeleine Kunin, the first female and first Jewish governor of Vermont, serving from 1985-1991. She was also deputy secretary of education and Ambassador to Switzerland during the Clinton administration.
|Madeleine Kunin speaking at University of Vermont Graduate Commencement ceremony, May 19, 2012.|
Kunin’s speech would have been poorly received and quite possibly considered heresy in many parts of the country. Vermont is a liberal state; current U.S. Senators are Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Bernard Sanders. What is so unfortunate is that what she had to say had to be said in 2012 in the United States.
Kunin was born in Switzerland and came to the U.S. as a child. She stressed the fact that immigrants are an important part of our country’s success and we should not abandon them. She emphasized the fact that accessible education for all is a crucial component of that success.
Kunin discussed the erosion of women’s rights as laws against contraceptives and women’s health care make inroads in state legislatures across the country.
She exhorted all of the graduates – men and women - to make a difference, make a statement and take action against injustice whenever and wherever they perceive problems.
Discussing the speech afterward my DIL said, although it was a good speech, it was too female-oriented.
Perhaps she is right.
Today young women enjoy most of the rights and privileges men enjoy. A time when it was considered unseemly for women to pursue certain professions, when they faced barriers and outright discrimination attempting to pursue an education and career, are ancient history to today’s young people. There are still problems, but so much progress has been made that women’s issues are practically non-issues for today’s younger generation. The idea the country is moving the wrong way may seem scary to many of us old folks, but has yet to keenly affect the lives of most young women.
I hope the country is not taking so many steps backwards that young women eventually face not just glass ceilings but brick walls.
There is another issue underlying Kunin’s speech. She realizes attacks on women’s rights would only be the start. Intolerance and prejudice spreads and attacks others. We are already seeing moves against immigrants and assaults on sexual orientation.
The graduates, clutching their Masters and Ph.D. diplomas, walked out into the bright, sunny, warm Vermont sunshine to begin another chapter in their lives. Greeted by proud, beaming family and friends, their thoughts turned to celebration dinners and barbecues, new jobs, and how they will spend vacation time and enjoy the summer.
We made it home incident-free on Sunday, driving a scenic route through Vermont and upstate New York before getting on the New York State Thruway and heading south through the New York and New Jersey metro area. We enjoyed dinner at a local clam bar in South Jersey and arrived home as dark descended.
It is time to look ahead and think about enjoying the holiday weekend – at home for a change. Barbecues, long walks, time on the beach, a bike ride. Summer is just about here. Hope for good weather!