University of Vermont Commencement Takes a Political Tone

BURLINGTON, Vt. - At its 216th commencement, about 3,200 graduates received degrees from the University of Vermont.

Before moving their tassels from right to left, some outgoing remarks were made to the Class of 2017.

Speakers mentioned President Donald Trump being sworn in, and his executive order that aims to enhance vetting measures for refugees entering the United States.

"The message voiced by UVM President Sullivan in a series of address to the campus community was, 'You are safe here, you are welcome here,'" remarked Catherine Paris, Senior Lecturers of Plant Biology at UVM.

Commencement speaker James Fallows, an award-winning journalist with The Atlantic, also touched on today's political climate.

"This is as promising a time as it is challenging and we need you stay engaged where the promise exists, which for the foreseeable level is not at the national level, but at the local level of American life....On this day, we celebrate what the University of Vermont and your families, and your mentors have done to prepare you for the service we need from you starting now," said Fallows.

Kiana Gonzales is one graduate, ready to do just that.

Growing up with two deaf parents, she decided to earn a linguistics degree.

"I grew up signing since I was a newborn. Doctors told them I was hearing, so from that day on they made sure sign language was my first language, and made me immersed into the culture," said Gonzales.

Now, Gonzales is taking her skills all the way to the United Nations.

"I'm excited to work with people who have similar identity and just connecting with them and really promoting and advocating for them, and getting the rights that they deserve," said Gonzales.

Beyond that, she says she's taking Fallows' advice to heart about helping at the local level.

"For me, home is a place in my heart, so working in different community shelters, or whether being in the deaf community back at home, is someway that I really hope to utilize my connections and really using what I've learned here in speeches back home," said Gonzales.

A representative from UVM says about 9,000 people attended Sunday's main ceremony.

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