Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Graduation Congratulations and Speeches

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!


  1. Conrats. to you and your daughter. Sometimes you gotta wonder how in the world some of our current conversations (e.g contraception) even get started. But you should take heart in knowing that more women than men graduate from college these days, and women currently lead in many other areas as well. I don't think it's likely we'll be going backward any time soon.

  2. Congratulations! That is a speech I would have loved to hear. These days it's possible to find it on line, so I will look for it. Getting her PhD is a huge achievement, so I am hoping she will be using it to make a difference in the world. I'm sure she will.

  3. I am forever saddened that 'feminism' has become a dirty word...even worse that 'humanism.'

  4. This may identify me as Harvey, but that may be appropriate this time around, though it's really me, Sandy. Your comments presage Harvey's July blog entry on America -- the Owner's Manual. He's calling it "Herstory: Remembering the Ladies." But the June entry, "You Can't Always Get What You Want - and Why It Seems to Take Forever" will also speak to some of your concerns. So stay tuned! In the meantime, mazel tov on the DIL's impressive accomplishment!

  5. I remember Madeleine Kunin from the Clinton era.

    Congratulations to your daughter. That's quite an accomplishment. I did all the work for my doctorate, but never wrote the dissertation. So, I remain an over-educated MA. Dianne

  6. Huge congratulations to Julie, and to yourself. Our children never arrive where they are going without the help of those who love them. Excellent post, I have been a Kunin fan for some time. I'm not really sure we can ever speak to much about women, their issues, their accomplishments, their rights. The problem lies, I think, in not speaking about them enough. I enjoyed the read very much.