After managing coronavirus pandemic and hybrid learning, Norwich University graduates about 447 students, many at on-campus ceremonies

Even if the chairs were spaced extra wide at Kreitzberg Arena and Shapiro Fieldhouse on Saturday, the U.S. flag was spread across the stage, the mortarboards and dress uniforms were on and there was enough joy and optimism to fill every sliver of space.

And even if the graduates, and their guests, were in masks, smiles wide and proud surely spread under them.

In-person Commencement was grit writ large against the coronavirus pandemic for Norwich University, which had to push last year’s ceremonies online after campus closed for infection curve flattening. President Dr. Mark Anarumo donned his Commencement finery, grand chapeau, flowing maroon robe, NU medallion and all, to lead his first commencement as president.

President Dr. Mark Anarumo hailed a class that had lived through a barrage of trials — in-room and campus quarantines, distance learning, videoconferencing, and those ever-present masks, to reach the finish line.

Anarumo stood where President Emeritus Richard W. Schneider, who was also onstage, had for nearly three decades and hailed a class that had lived through a barrage of trials — in-room and campus quarantines, distance learning, videoconferencing, and those ever-present masks, to reach the finish line.

Later, the keynote speaker, U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, would tell graduates they’d help keep peace in America, whoever they were, wherever they worked.

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Norwich University President Dr. Mark Anarumo speaks to graduates Saturday morning at Commencement. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

About 447 students graduated Saturday from 32 undergraduate programs and one master’s program. Eighteen graduates came from 10 other nations on five continents.

Anarumo reminded them all, whether they were in front of him or watching by livestream elsewhere, that they will continue the university’s two-centuries-plus tradition of service.

One hundred sixty-four would commission in to the armed forces. Many others would work as military allies, first responders, health care professionals and in myriad other careers.

A standing thank you

Anarumo had the graduates, and the parents, kin and friends who had supported them, stand in recognition for their work and sacrifice.

“Many of those family members and friends cannot be here today, in keeping with COVID restrictions that are required by the state of Vermont, yet I know they are proudly watching this ceremony,” he said. “They include your mothers, and your fathers, your siblings, grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your mentors and your peers. … Please join me in saying these very simple, but two very powerful words to them, ‘Thank you.’”

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Norwich University graduates stand at attention Saturday during Commencement at Shapiro FIeldhouse. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

Acknowledging the pandemic, Anarumo said the past 16 months had been frustrating, emotionally and mentally challenging and unfair. Nevertheless, he said, the group had moved through it together, and Norwich’s faculty, staff and leadership had fought for them.

Anarumo encouraged the Class of 2021 to do meaningful things, be inquisitive and learn.

“Remember that no matter what, this is your year, you can make it whatever you want,” Anarumo said. “No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, take every day with a positive attitude. Try to surround yourself with people who encourage you to tackle challenges to come and who will enjoy moving through life together with you.”

Milley stood as an example of the heights leaders can achieve, having held multiple command and staff positions in eight divisions and Special Forces during 39 years in the U.S. Army. He’s commanded the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division; the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. He’s been deputy commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division; and commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division, III Corps and U.S. Army Forces Command.

A part in keeping the peace

Milley, who received an honorary doctorate that Anarumo will deliver in person later this year, said the 2021 graduates entering the armed forces will bolster national security, by preparing for, or fighting a war. Other graduates, entering health care,  cybersecurity, criminal justice, environmental science and other careers, will shape society and influence America’s and the armed forces’ direction, he added.

Like Anarumo, Milley acknowledged the Class of 2021’s diversity, domestic and international; civic and rural; Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim. Amid the varied cultures and perspectives, Milley said, lies a shared desire to build communities.

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U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, delivers recorded remarks to Norwich University graduates during the 2021 Commencement ceremony at Shapiro Fieldhouse. (Photo by Mark Collier/Norwich University.)

Milley warned about the costs of the “great power wars” that shook the world in the 20th century. Milley said the period included the “most violent three decades of human history”; historians have put the death toll at more than 100 million.

After World War II, global leaders established the current rules-based international world order, ushering in a great power peace that continues, Milley said. But he added that this peace is strained and fraying as the Class of 2021 leaves Norwich.

Milley encouraged the graduates to use history as a guide and lift the gaze from the present’s never-ending urgency to future. The United States, Milley said, is in a great power competition with China and Russia that needs to be kept from escalating into conflict.

“Each of you will play an important role in keeping the peace; you can expect to be at the edge many times, to make hard choices with imperfect information. You’ll have to keep guard up against the nature of evolving security challenges,” he said. “You are well equipped to meet these challenges. You are about to graduate from an institution that has taught strength of character and leadership and perseverance. … All of you know what it means to say, ‘I will try.’”

Anarumo, meanwhile, encouraged the Class of 2021 to reflect not on moments lost, but collective success. By following the university values — honor, integrity, empathy, creativity and compassion — and leading and serving in their communities, he said, the Class of 2021 will tackle challenges including economic revival, domestic discord, and build the postpandemic world.

“As you go off and become leaders, and yes, … each of you is destined to lead, you can make the communities you join, or in some cases, the communities that you form, stronger,” he said. “We live our best lives and have our best times when we are in service to each other.”

(Slideshow photos by Mark Collier/Norwich University.):

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