May 17, 2008
On Saturday, May 17, 2008, 420 students were awarded degrees at Johnson State College's 141st Commencement. Senator Patrick Leahy addressed the graduates in a speech that highlighted the importance of service, remaining true to one's values and environmental stewardship.
Senator Leahy focused on the contributions of three Vermonters: Senator Ralph Flanders whose critical response to Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist investigation helped bring McCarthy's "red scare" to an end; Vermont Governor Deane Davis, who pushed forward Act 250, which have kept Vermont's roadways free of billboards since the late 1960s; and Senator Bob Stafford, who was instrumental in creating the student loan program that today bears his name and who was willing to stand up to members of his own Republican Party to ensure that environmental protections were not weakened.
"The lessons these men have taught us are not merely academic," said Leahy. "In their actions, they have shown us the importance of standing firm in your beliefs. They have also shown us that conflict need not be hostile or adversarial. Humor can soften the words of a pointed message and while at times our ideas may be at odds with each other, our common life experiences as humans can bring us together."
Leahy urged the graduates to follow the lead of these men: "One need not be staring down a tyrant, standing up to a President or choosing to take the path less traveled to apply their teachings in your own life. You are leaving Johnson State to enter a world filled with challenges and adversity, but more importantly a world filled with hope and opportunity. You go forward with a responsibility to stay true to the Vermont values that have been passed on to you by all the Vermonters before you, and through your education at this great institution."