First openly gay NBA player Jason Collins named commencement speaker

Judge Allison Burroughs ’83, Marta Casals Istomin, Ernie Parizeau and Kim Parizeau ’79 to receive honorary degrees

By Hattie LeFavour

Jason Collins delivers a short message during the virtual senior celebration.

The class of 2020 commencement speaker will be Jason Collins, a retired professional basketball player and the first male active sports athlete in a major sport to come out as gay. Collins graduated from Stanford in 2001, after which he was drafted to the NBA where he played for myriad teams for 13 years. In 2013, he declared his sexuality in a landmark cover story in “Sports Illustrated.” President Laurie Patton announced Collins as the speaker of the in-person commencement during the virtual senior celebration held Sunday. Collins delivered a brief recorded address during the virtual celebration and will return to address the class of 2020 during the full graduation ceremony tentatively planned to be held sometime next year.

 Collins will also be the distinguished recipient of an honorary degree along with Judge Allison Burroughs ’83, a Federal Judge appointed by Barack Obama in 2014; Marta Casals Istomin, a renowned musician and former longtime artistic director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Ernie Parizeau, a practiced teacher of entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice at Middlebury; and Kim Parizeau ’79, the innovative former chair of the Middlebury Board of Trustees.

“I’m disappointed that I’m not there in person as your commencement speaker to celebrate your achievements as graduates of Middlebury College,” Collins said during the livestreamed ceremony, where he encouraged the class of 2020 to reflect on the past four years and then forward to the future. “We need you. Society needs you. The world needs you. Be the future leaders that we know that you can be.”

During his time at Stanford, Collins was named an All-American and to the All Pac-10 First Team as a senior. He also received the NABC Pete Newell “Big Man of the Year” Award and was chosen in the 2001 NBA Draft as the eighteenth overall pick. He then went on to play for six teams including Atlanta, Boston, the Brooklyn Nets, New Jersey, Memphis, Minnesota and Washington during his 13-year tenure in the NBA.

In April 2013, Collins was featured on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” and in an exclusive through which he came out as gay. “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.” Following his announcement, Collins was featured in 2014 as one of “TIME” magazine’s “100 Most Influential people in the World” and was honored the following year with a Sports Legacy Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.  

Following his recognitions, Collins served the Obama administration as a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. He now serves as an NBA Cares Ambassador, working to cultivate a positive basketball community.  

Judge Allison Burroughs ’83 will join Collins in receiving an honorary degree. Judge Burroughs received her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1989 and specialized in complex litigation and white-collar criminal defense before entering private practice. After working as an Assistant United States attorney for 16 years, she was appointed to the Federal Bench by Barack Obama in 2014.

The third recipient of an honorary degree is Marta Casals Istomin, a musician and well-known cellist who dedicated her life to music education. Istomin has worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, serving as a delegate to the World Arts Forum. Istomin served as the Artistic Director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. for over 10 years. Then, she would lead the Manhattan School of Music for over a decade as its president. Istomin was awarded the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2015, and she currently serves as the President Emerita of the Manhattan School of Music.

The fourth recipient of an honorary degree at next year’s ceremony, Ernie Parizeau is a practiced entrepreneur and dedicated Professor of the Practice at Middlebury. Parizeau also teaches entrepreneurship in the MiddCORE Innovation program and has taught at Babson College, Olin College of Engineering and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Parizeau served for 23 years as a partner of Northwest Venture Partners and was chair of the Cape Eleuthera Foundation. He is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth and is married to Kim Parizeau, the fifth and final recipient of an honorary degree.

Kim Parizeau ’79 has served as a member of the Middlebury Board of Trustees for 16 years, during which time she guided the college through significant transitions as chair of the Board. Under her leadership, the board saw the acquisition of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, now known as the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. She also saw the appointment of Dr. Laurie Patton, the college’s first female president, and the creation of Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan. Parizeau is also a board member at Matriculate.org, a nonprofit dedicated to equitable higher education among low-income communities.

Although no concrete plans have been made for the in-person commencement ceremony, President Patton hopes to hold the event on Middlebury’s campus next year. Speaker Jason Collins has agreed to deliver a full address when the event is held, at which time each of the five honorary degrees will be awarded.