Champlain’s 143rd Commencement celebrates students’ resilience in virtual and in-person ceremonies

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Champlain’s 143rd Commencement celebrates students’ resilience in virtual and in-person ceremonies

Sat, 05/15/2021 - 1:53pm -- tim

College Awards Honorary Degrees to Commencement Speakers Governor Phil Scott and Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD

Vermont Business Magazine Champlain College celebrated the resilience of its 2021 graduates with a series of virtual and in-person ceremonies at its 143rd Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 15th. The college awarded honorary doctorates to speakers Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, for their leadership and lifesaving work during the coronavirus pandemic, and featured student speakers Angela Richard, Robbin Suggs Williams, and Paul Leendertse.

The College held several ceremonies on Saturday: a 10:00 AM fully virtual ceremony for graduates and families tuning in remotely; a 10:00 AM livestream of its on-campus ceremony for graduates in the Division of Communications & Creative Media (CCM) and Stiller School of Business (SSB); and a 1:00 PM livestream of an on-campus ceremony for graduates in the Division of Education & Human Studies (EHS) and the Division of Information Technology Sciences (ITS). A 3:00 PM virtual ceremony was held for Champlain College Online undergraduate and all master’s degree graduates and their families.

During the virtual ceremonies, students and families tuned in from living rooms and kitchens across the country to watch dignitaries, faculty and students give inspirational speeches—some previously recorded and others broadcast live. All the ceremonies were hosted on a dedicated website at, which featured a social media wall; videos of students saying goodbye to Champlain, speaking about their accomplishments over the past four years, and sharing the challenges they faced during the pandemic; videos of faculty and staff sharing their good wishes for the Class of 2021; and diploma ceremonies with graduating students’ names being called by each College division.

The ceremonies began with a performance of the national anthem by Hilary Delisle, a Champlain College staff member graduating with a Master of Business Administration. Graduates were then welcomed by President Benjamin Ola Akande, Ph.D., who spoke from the College’s Champlain Room, with the campus, Burlington, and Lake Champlain in the distance.

President Akande spoke about the challenges graduates have faced with the concurrent issues in our nation and our world—COVID-19, racism, climate change, and political unrest—saying, “You have looked adversity in the eye, directly and unwaveringly, and you arrive here today as champions who have wrestled with adversity and won.”

Dr. Leslie Averill, Champlain’s Vice President of Academic Affairs and Chief Operating Officer, bestowed Honorary Degrees to Governor Phil Scott and Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “We are pleased to be able to honor the tremendous work of these two leaders today,” she said. “Their tireless, steadfast leadership, science-based decision-making, consistent communications, and reassuring approach has helped us navigate through the evolution of the pandemic and sustained the health and safety of our community.”

In addressing Champlain graduates, Governor Scott said, “Sometimes you have to dig deep, you have to challenge your own instincts, be willing to learn, take in new information, hear out different perspectives, before doing what you think is right.” He spoke about the importance of teamwork, which he credits for Vermont’s success in facing the pandemic. He added, “Regardless of where you end up, I wish you much success in the years to come. I certainly hope you consider staying right here in Vermont.”

Dr. Levine offered inspiration and advice in the context of the pandemic, congratulating students on completing their studies “under such extraordinary and stressful circumstances.” He added, “College does not get any tougher than this. You are the definition of resilience. Figure out and catalog your strengths so you can draw on them in future times of need.” He counseled graduates to “embrace our Vermont values and New England ingenuity” in facing future challenges.

In addition to the 2021 Honorary Degree recipients, three student speakers addressed the graduates: Angela Richard, representing traditional undergraduate students, who received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education; Robbin Suggs Williams, representing Champlain College Online undergraduate students, who received a Bachelor of Science in Business Management; and Paul Leenderste, representing Champlain College Online graduate students, who received a Master of Science in Information Security Operations. Stephen Wehmeyer, Associate Professor in the Core Division, gave the faculty address.

“This year, learning became something we never imagined it could be,” said Ms. Richard. “From being comfortable in the classroom to learning through new mediums, we had to come to terms with pivoting our education to meet the constraints of the pandemic. We should all be proud of the growth we’ve attained as students and learners during this time of adversity.”

President Benjamin Ola. Akande, Ph.D. conferred 360 bachelor’s degrees to on-campus undergraduate students on Saturday. During the Champlain College Online and master’s degree ceremony, he expected to confer 114 master’s degrees, 133 bachelor’s degrees and 26 associate degrees.

To see additional details and recordings of all ceremonies, visit the Commencement website. Please use this link to access photos from today’s ceremonies.

About Champlain College

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain. Since 1993, Champlain has also offered industry-focused undergraduate and graduate programs fully online to working adults, and, through its truED workforce development program, to leading organizations across the country. Champlain’s distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 386 Colleges: 2021 Edition, and was named the best private online college by in 2020. Champlain was ranked among the top 100 Regional Universities in the North and named a “Most Innovative School” for the sixth year in a row by U.S. News & World Report. For more information, visit

Source: BURLINGTON, VT (May 15, 2021) — Champlain College