Bernie Sanders chosen as keynote speaker for 2017 commencement


Agathe Fredette

Bernie Sanders speaks at “Get Out the Vote” rally

JSC’s graduating class of 2017 will have a very special keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony this May: Senator Bernie Sanders.



This will be Johnson’s 150th commencement ceremony, which seems the perfect time to bring in a speaker who really represents the school’s ideals.



“I think there’s a really tremendous alignment between the campus values and Bernie,” says President Elaine Collins. “I think that’s reflective in terms of how many people turned out for the [‘Get Out the Vote’ rally]. And he’s a good ally . . . He’s a very strong supporter of TRiO, he’s a very strong supporter of the environment, and he’s just a great guy.”



Sanders served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years and has been a member of the U.S. Senate since 2006. His recent presidential campaign, although ultimately unsuccessful, inspired and motivated people all across the nation to take a stand against systemic injustice.



Commencement speakers are typically recommended by a committee, but the committee doesn’t necessarily meet every year. In this case, Sanders was on last year’s slate of recommendations but was unavailable, so the idea was revisited.



“I thought it was a good bet that they would want [Sanders] this year if we could get him,” says Collins.



Booking the senator involved persistence and luck. “It’s hard because when you get people of this kind of stature, they’re booked way ahead, so it’s juggling a lot of calendars,” says Collins. “We have to thank Cecilia [North] for all of her good work, because we just kept at it and kept at it, and we were very excited to hear that he had accepted.”



That excitement is shared by students, many of whom see the senator as something of an idol.



Ophelia Blair, who will be graduating with an art degree in May, thinks that Sanders is the perfect choice.



“I think for a lot of young people — particularly young people in Vermont — Bernie represented, and still represents, hope for a better future and an emphasis on hard work,” says Blair. “I think that’s a really wonderful thing to send the graduates off with as they enter a new phase of their lives.”



Brie Carleton, a junior at JSC, has a similar view.



“I think that Sanders has become more of a local hero since running for president than he expected, so I’m certain that many people will be excited for his coming to Johnson,” says Carleton. “For those who are traumatized by current political happenings, I hope his presence can make them feel better . . . that even though things look bad, there are still people fighting for what they believe in.



“I’m slightly salty about the fact that when I graduate I doubt we’ll be able to find someone as cool, famous and motivating as Sanders to speak,” continues Carleton, who will be graduating in May 2018.



Although most seating is reserved for the graduating students and their guests, the event will likely be heavily attended.



“I imagine we’re going to have a lot of people there,” says Collins. “I have friends in Michigan who are asking me if they can come.”