On Saturday, May 27, graduate students from eight countries received master’s degrees during commencement ceremonies at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. Blue skies, green hills, and the flags of those countries provided a bright backdrop as faculty and students took their places to the sounds of African percussion.
SIT Graduate Institute offers internationally focused programs based on an experiential learning model and a commitment to social justice and intercultural communication. On May 27, 55 students received master’s degrees in the fields of intercultural service, leadership, and management; international education; sustainable development; TESOL; and peacebuilding and conflict transformation.
After the colorful procession and introductory remarks by interim dean Dr. Kenneth Williams, several speakers took the podium.
Dr. Sophia Howlett, who was named president of the School for International Training (SIT) in January 2017, focused on what makes SIT distinctive, saying, “What brings us all together is a passion for a life of service.”
Part of SIT’s role, Howlett said, is developing the skills to make change in the world and truly live a life of service. “This stop at SIT, I hope, is one that has changed your life, but it is only one stop on your journey,” said Howlett.
Faculty speaker Dr. Syed Aqeel Tirmizi of the SIT Intercultural Service, Leadership and Management program has more than 20 years of international experience in teaching, research, management, and capacity building. Tirmizi, also an alumnus of SIT, addressed the idea of the common good. “A commitment to the common good includes the primacy of social justice,” he said. “It reminds us to protect the basic human rights that all people must enjoy because they are alive.”
Tirmizi called upon students to be revolutionaries at times and interested observers other times. He advised graduates to “identify, refine, and hold on to what inspires you the most, and then let it spread.”
Saturday’s student speaker was Meg Bearor, a graduate in intercultural service, leadership, and management who works with Pact, a Washington, DC–based nonprofit doing international program management. Bearor has a BA in African studies and political science from the University of Toronto and came to SIT after managing programs for a small nonprofit organization that provides formal and informal educational opportunities in East Africa.In her commencement address, Bearor urged students to avoid divisiveness and focusing too closely on the specifics of any one platform or issue. “We must unite for change, because it all matters,” Bearor said.
Saturday’s keynote speaker was Dr. Hakim Williams, assistant professor of Africana studies and education and a faculty affiliate in the Globalization Studies and Public Policy programs at Gettysburg College.
In a passionate, energetic address, Williams focused on “a fierce, revolutionary love,” recounting his own difficulties confronting the atrocities of conflict. The magnitude of those atrocities, he said, affected him so strongly he became suicidal. “I started asking myself, ‘Do I belong here? What’s my contribution to this already loud and clamorous world? Am I up to the task?’ ”
Eventually, he decided to focus on “disruption, but with a love for others.”
He asked students, “Are you prepared to disrupt? Are you prepared to envision the world anew and then assemble the resources, energies, and people necessary for the journey? When you disrupt, you’ve got to stay around and help mend, heal, and build new pathways.”
Dr. Williams also is a lecturer in the Conflict Resolution and Mediation program at the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, he holds a PhD in international educational development with a concentration in peace education from Columbia University. He is a 2017 recipient of the Inaugural Emerging Scholars Award from the African Diaspora Special Interest Group of the Comparative and International Education Society.
SIT graduate students learn by doing, particularly via the practicum phase of their degree programs. Their positions with organizations during the practicum sometimes lead to job offers. That was the case for new graduate Scott Sharland, who received his master's in sustainable development. He is now a program specialist at Greater Falls Connections in Bellows Falls, Vermont, where he does media outreach and runs youth programs.
Sharland, who came to SIT from the Peace Corps, said, "I knew I wanted to do something related to health and helping communities." SIT, he added, helped him gain the skills he needed.
Emma Shattuck received a master's in intercultural service, leadership and management Saturday and has already begun work with international development company Chemonics International, based in Washington, D.C.
Though Shattuck is from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, she heard about SIT via word of mouth while working abroad. "I thought it would be the perfect place for me, and I was correct," she said.
During the ceremony, Dr. Susan Bardhun was also named professor emeritus. Dr. Barduhn joined SIT Graduate Institute in 2003. During her time here, in addition to teaching and supervising students, Dr. Barduhn directed the summer MA in TESOL program and the low-residency MA in TESOL program. She is past president of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language; former director of The Language Center in Nairobi, Kenya; and former deputy director of International House in London. Her professional areas of interest and research are intercultural communication, teacher thinking, and teacher trainer development. She co-authored the book Integrating Language and Content, short-listed for the prestigious Elton award.