Multicultural values highlighted at SIT commencement

Publication Date: May 11, 2019
Publication Location: BRATTLEBORO, Vermont
Contact: Kate Casa  |

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont – More than 50 graduates received their master’s degrees at School for International Training on Saturday during a ceremony infused with the importance of multicultural understanding and communication.

“The SIT experience impresses upon you at every opportunity that everyone has a story to tell and skills to share, and that valuable feedback can come through many channels,” said commencement speaker Meghan Audette, West Bank deputy director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and a 2004 alumna of SIT’s sustainable development program.

She recalled how SIT encourages students to move past the discomfort of difficult conversations “to a deeper level of understanding of our world, our cultures, and ourselves.”

... any change worth bringing about in this world requires building bridges to people — sometimes even the very people that you don’t understand and may even fear ...

“There are many excellent programs that will teach you skills, but few that will hone your heart and ground you while doing so, and yet these are the skills that mean the difference between success and failure in the fields that we have chosen,” said Audette. “Graduates, you are leaving SIT at a time when the world deeply needs these skills.”

Against the verdant backdrop of a Vermont spring morning, graduates crossed a stage framed by flags from around the world during SIT’s 53rd annual commencement ceremony. Many wore robes that have become a hallmark of the SIT ceremony: gowns specially crafted by women of the Lahu Hill tribe in Thailand, the Ecumenical Women’s Centre in Ghana and the Nahuit women’s cooperative in El Salvador – all groups that have worked closely with SIT students in years past.

The gowns represent SIT’s commitment to intercultural understanding and global education. The organization was founded more than 50 years ago as a training center for outbound U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. Since then, it has gone on to offer degrees in fields related to social justice. Saturday’s graduating class earned their MAs in international education, nonprofit leadership, peacebuilding, sustainable development, and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages).

Faculty speaker Bruce Dayton, chair of the Peace and Justice Leadership MA program and the CONTACT summer peacebuilding workshop, reminded graduates of the principles in which SIT is grounded. Among them, he said, “that any change worth bringing about in this world requires building bridges to people — sometimes even the very people that you don’t understand and may even fear; that no matter how smart, accomplished, or important we become in this life, we must always learn from others, especially those that have been marginalized, forgotten, or left behind.”

Among Saturday’s graduates were four SIT Global Scholars – students who had fled their home countries due to political unrest of violence. Driven by the growing refugee crisis around the world, in 2017 SIT created five full scholarships. As of Saturday, all five students have now completed their degrees. They are Tamam Abulteaf of Syria; Abdou Edris of Sudan; Bahati Kanyamanza of Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kenneth Mukonyezi of Uganda; and commencement speaker Fadia Thabet of Yemen.

“SIT was a life-changing experience, where I established an international family with siblings from all walks of life,” said Thabet. “At SIT, we celebrated our differences before our similarities. We were reminded that we have each other to hold each other accountable. …. My message of hope to you is you.”

Saturday’s graduating class brings to 116 the number of SIT students who completed their MAs during the 2018-19 academic year. They include 59 students who completed their programs in 2018 and 57 who did so this month.

During Saturday’s ceremony, two SIT faculty members, Dr. Karen Blanchard and Linda Drake Gobbo, were named emerita.