39 graduate as SIT resumes in-person commencement

August 23rd, 2021   |   SIT Graduate Institute

Eleven graduates in black gowns and black mortarboard caps with the SIT president in black gown and PhD cap. All are wearing protective masks.
Graduates at Saturday's ceremony with SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett (right)

BRATTLEBORO – For the first time in more than two years, graduates crossed the stage in person at School for International Training on Saturday, Aug. 21, during SIT’s 55th commencement ceremony. The event marked a milestone for students who had completed their master’s degrees – some remotely from their homes and others at SIT global centers – during a global pandemic.

Thirty-seven students from the class of 2021 were awarded diplomas during an event that blended in-person and online participation. Two others received graduate-level certificates. Two students from the graduating class of 2020 also participated in person at Saturday’s event.

“Your journey here today was not an easy one – you had real issues and hurdles to overcome,” said keynote speaker Aisha Naomi Cooper, a Liberian American refugee, SIT alumna, and World Learning board member who works at the World Bank. “Those moments made you stronger. It is that resilient spirit, courage, and strong sense of determination that make up your story and build the new generation of leaders that is within each of you.”

Read the full text of the keynote speech by Naomi Cooper

A woman
Keynote speaker Aisha Naomi Cooper

It is that resilient spirit, courage, and strong sense of determination that make up your story and build the new generation of leaders that is within each of you.”

Despite the pandemic, SIT Graduate Institute has continued to offer master’s degree programs online and in person at SIT centers around the world.

Student speaker Danielle Purvis, who earned her MA in Climate Change and Global Sustainability, said her cohort had experienced, “a lock down, then an evacuation, and then a lockdown and an evacuation.” On the climate change program, SIT students spend a semester in Iceland and another in Tanzania.

After calling for a moment of silence for all those lost to COVID-19, Cooper recounted how her own experience living through a civil war in Liberia has led her to support efforts to improve the lives of marginalized people, especially women and girls, around the world.

“In spite of all that you had to endure,” she told the graduates, “I hope you still consider it a privilege to earn your degrees today because there are many students around the world, especially girls, who have been robbed of their full potential due to the lack of access to education, the traps of poverty they find themselves, and threat of the pandemic. Their stories also matter.”

In an address written from his home in Morocco and read by SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett, Dr. Said Graiouid, SIT dean of faculty, stated, “You will be remembered as the class that did it all. You have weathered the storm and survived graduate school during one of the most difficult sanitary crises in modern history.”

“And yet, we are not surprised,” Said continued. “You are SIT. You are of the tradition of alumni that are ready, despite all headwinds, to engage with the critical global issues that challenge our common humanity.”

You are SIT. You are of the tradition of alumni that are ready, despite all headwinds, to engage with the critical global issues that challenge our common humanity.”

In her own remarks, Howlett reminded the graduates of the contrasts ahead as they confront global issues such as climate change and refugee resettlement. “Changing the world is complicated; it’s messy and it’s difficult, and a lot of times things go wrong,” Howlett said.

“At SIT, you’ve learned about connecting with people, with small communities, with a specific locale or environment, with a local NGO. Go with the knowledge that you will touch lives and places; you have touched them already and they have touched you.

“Always be open to the changes others can have on your lives and remember that we live to connect with others and our environment.”

Read the full text of the speech by Danielle Purvis

Student Speaker Danielle Purvis

I know, more than ever before, that the ways of this world are unsustainable and must change, and that we get to be on the front lines of building new bridges and creating a new way of life.”

Through her climate change studies, Purvis said, she developed “a global lens of how we are inextricably connected to each other and to our natural environment. And I know, more than ever before, that the ways of this world are unsustainable and must change, and that we get to be on the front lines of building new bridges and creating a new way of life.”

“I’ve learned more from spending this year in other countries, seeing firsthand how a country must make hard decisions to close their borders to protect the health of their people or to keep their borders open to sustain their economies and keep their people fed; how a country’s limited resources can be stretched even more thinly during crises; and how easily systems fail, especially for countries that were already struggling.”

SIT’s last in-person commencement on the Brattleboro campus was in May 2019. A virtual commencement was held in August 2020.

SIT offers MA programs in: Climate Change and Global Sustainability; Development Practice; Diplomacy and International Relations; Global Health; Humanitarian Assistance and Crisis Management; Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management; International Education; Peace and Justice Leadership; Sustainable Development; and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

The school launched its first EdD, in Global Education, in 2020.