Public Radio Host to Speak at Graduation

Middlebury Will Award Five Honorary Degrees at Graduation



Krista Tippett will give the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremony. The “On Being” host was awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014.


Krista Tippett, creator and host of the national public radio program and podcast “On Being,” will deliver the college’s commencement address on Sunday, May 26.  On her show, she explores broad cultural and spiritual questions about what it means to be human. Her wide range of guests have included Desmond Tutu, Yo-Yo Ma, Mary Oliver, Teju Cole and Maya Angelou.

Tippett was chosen to speak by a committee of two students, two faculty and an administrator. In anticipation of her upcoming speech, Tippett shared messages directed at the Middlebury community in an email to The Campus. 

“We live in this moment of cultural upheaval in which we know what’s broken, but we can’t yet see what the new forms will be, the new realities we want to inhabit,” she said. “Creating those is work for generational time. It’s important right now to take a long, reality-based view of time, which doesn’t come naturally in your 20s.” 

Tippett also noted the importance of knowing how to celebrate and take joy wherever and whenever you can find it. “Practice letting those two impulses nurture each other,” she said, adding that she’ll speak more about this on commencement day. 

Tippet said she will be honored to be there in a moment of celebration and passage. “I’m looking forward to being on the Middlebury campus for the first time in a long time, and will hope for some conversation around the edges of festivities with students and faculty,” she said.

Middlebury will also award honorary degrees at this year’s commencement ceremony. One will be awarded to Jane Mayer, bestselling author and the chief Washington correspondent for the “New Yorker,” where she has been a staff writer since 1995. 

“The fact that I will receive an honorary degree  from Middlebury is especially meaningful to me because my career as a journalist began in Vermont, working on the state’s smallest weekly newspaper, and because I am the proud parent of a Middlebury graduate, Kate Hamilton, who was a 2015 Feb,” she wrote in an email. 

In recent years, Mayer has written on topics ranging from money in politics and the U.S. Predator drone program to government prosecution of whistleblowers. She is the author of several books, including the bestselling “Dark Money,” which examined the influence of conservative mega-donors including the Koch Brothers.

“My hope for the graduating class is that it won’t just conquer the world, but that it will also fix it along the way,” Mayer said. “There’s no formula for a happy life, and no avoiding some setbacks and pitfalls, but in my experience, no amount of pay can compensate for work you don’t love, and no amount of satisfaction is greater than feeling that you’re making some kind of a difference.”

Mayer also addressed Middlebury students with a call to defend the truth. “Tell the truth, whether about science, history, poetry or politics — these days its defenders are in way too short a supply!”

Michelle Mittelman will accept an honorary degree on behalf of her late husband, David R. Mittelman ’76, a longtime college trustee and parent of three Middlebury graduates. Mittelman died in May 2017. He was passionate about astronomy, establishing the P. Frank Winkler Professorship in Physics at Middlebury, and providing financial support for the college’s observatory and telescope. 

Judith Heumann, a senior fellow of the Ford Foundation, lifelong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and an internationally recognized civil rights leader will also receive an honorary degree. Previously holding positions such as first special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. Department of State and in the Clinton administration, assistant secretary of the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, she was instrumental in developing major disability rights legislation, including a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Donald W. Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of Vermont’s Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, is also one of the planned recipients of an honorary degree. He is a respected Abenaki leader in Vermont who has been instrumental in raising awareness of the rich Abenaki heritage as well as securing legal recognition for the Abenaki people and their lands. Stevens also has more than 27 years of experience developing information technology, logistics, and manufacturing strategies for multimillion-dollar companies, is a U.S. Army Veteran and served two terms on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, the second as chair. 

The degree bears both personal and cultural significance, Stevens told The Campus. “Neither of my parents were able to graduate high school because they had to work to support the family and help feed their siblings. My sisters were able to graduate high school but I am the only one in the family that was able to go to college and complete my degree after I completed my Military Service,” he said. 

Stevens also addressed Middlebury students directly. “Stay in touch with what made you who you are and this beautiful planet of ours. It is the only one we have and must be looked after for future generations,” he said. 

The Middlebury College Commencement ceremony will take place on the main quadrangle at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 26. More than 5,000 family members and friends are expected to attend.

When asked what kind of audience Krista Tippett expects Middlebury to be, she responded, “Exuberant and eclectic and also pragmatic — a good combination.”