Congratulations to Middlebury Class of 2011!

593 Middlebury students graduated on Sunday. The weather held and even stayed sunny for the Class of 2011’s commencement after almost a week of rain showers.

Addressing yesterday’s graduates were student speaker Donnie Dickson and celebrated Paralympic skiier and motivational speaker Chris Waddell of Middlebury’s Class of 1991. Dickson spoke of the changes the entire class had undergone in 4 years and what it truly means to be a MiddKid (full text). Meanwhile, Waddell emphasized the gift that comes from facing challenges, using his own disability as an example. His main message to the graduates: “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.” (full text) Both Dickson and Waddell spoke of the incredible bonds within the Middlebury community and how those connections are not severed when one leaves our beautiful campus in Vermont.

The ceremony also included a moment of silence in memory of the three members of the class that died during their time as students in the past four years: Pavlo Levkiv, Ben Wieler, and Nick Garza.

Receiving honorary degrees yesterday were economics scholar and international adviser to political leaders Padma Desai, doctor of laws; Vermont’s long-serving senator, Patrick Leahy, doctor of laws; local volunteer and activist Dorothy Bigelow Neuberger ’58, doctor of humane letters; internationally recognized geneticist and director of the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute Edward M. Rubin, doctor of science; and civil rights activist Maxine Atkins Smith, doctor of humane letters, who earned a master’s degree in French from Middlebury in 1950 and won the Freedom Award from the Memphis-based National Civil Rights Museum in 2003, as well as speaker Chris Waddell with a doctor of humane letters.

Graduates celebrate with caps in the air

Video of the speeches can be found here. Below is a quick snapshot of the day in tweets. Congratulations to the Class of 2011 and best of luck in your future endeavors!


7 thoughts on “Congratulations to Middlebury Class of 2011!

  1. Donny Dickson made a transphobic ‘joke’ in his speech (although he appeared to be reading from his written speech, it’s not in the online text—excised, then?): “Some of you got taller, or wider, or better at growing a beard—hopefully not more than half of you.” Yes, gosh forbid some women grow a beard, or someone transition while in college and start taking testosterone! Huzzah for the easy laughs at the expense of marginalized people.

    And Chris Waddell’s speech, of course, was his usual inspiration-for-the-able-bodied BS. ‘Look at him, and how he’s succeeded after being *paralyzed*! What reason do *I* have to complain? What excuse do *I* have for not being successful like him’? Not to mention his tacit endorsement of nondisabled people’s asking people with disabilities invasive questions about their bodies.

    While his speech was plenty problematic, it’s of course the College itself that’s the most disturbing player here. The gall to invite a PWD to speak at a campus where he can’t access so many buildings! And their heavy invocation of the supercrip and overcomer stereotypes in their announcement of his speech! To sum it up, here’s some side-by-side comparisons of a description of the ‘supercrip’ stereotype ( and the Communications Office’s article about his address (

    ‘And because it is a stereotype—some would say cliché—many folks without disabilities use it as shorthand when telling stories about people with disabilities; how many times have we seen those human interest pieces on the news or in magazines about athletes struck down “in their prime”…’

    ‘Waddell was a promising young skier at Middlebury in 1988 when a skiing accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.’
    ‘In short: Supercrip provides a way for non-disabled folks to be “inspired” by persons with disabilities without actually questioning—or making changes to—how persons with disabilities are treated in society…’

    ‘“Chris Waddell has lived his life in an inspiring and thought-provoking way,” said Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz. “He has demonstrated that practically anything is possible as long as one remains determined and open-minded…”‘
    ‘…the Supercrip story is one of the only types of narratives about disabled people that receives plenty of airtime and page space. Supercrip cannot just be human; she or he must be superhuman and surpass not only her/his disability, but the realms of “normal” human achievement.’

    ‘Waddell is the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history, having won 12 medals over four games and spending a total of 11 years on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. He is one of a select few who has medaled in both summer and winter games. In the fall of 2009, he became the first paraplegic to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro unassisted, and in 2010 he was inducted into both the Paralympic Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.’
    ‘Supercrip’s inspirational currency is not at all about inspiring other people with disabilities; it is, rather, about inspiring non-disabled people. Supercrip allows some non-disabled folks to feel better about themselves; this is quite evident when it comes to statements like, “What an inspiration!”’

    ‘He speaks about the resilience of the human condition, with topics ranging from leadership to adversity to quality of life. He has inspired children and adults alike with his overall message that “It’s not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”’
    Conclusion: ‘The implication with these sorts of statements is disturbing: if a disabled person can do superhuman things, what is the person who is being inspired—and who likely does not have a disability—complaining about, anyway? Supercrip has it so much worse because s/he is disabled, and s/he is doing amazing things in spite of those limitations!’

    How sad that this is how we sent our graduates out into the world.

  2. What planet are you from? Let’s all wallow in self-pity and put people like Chris Waddell back into a closet so he could not, god forbid, disappoint those like you. Let’s not let someone who has faced adversity serve as a model for anyone out there, either fully-abled or not. That would be so wrong.

    If you are an able-bodied person, and I suspect you are, you are likely a failure of some sort, at least in your own eyes, and you need to project your failings onto the achievements of others. Your gobble-di-gook pop psychology, or what is more likely a kind of new field of intense academic study to protect oneself rather than the truly marginalized, is pathetic. What ideological clap trap. Defend the marginalized, yes. Stop the self-hate and self-pity, please.

    The college should celebrate a Chris Waddell. He is a credit and inspiration to humanity. He needn’t hide as you have chosen to do (and by the way, is your first name “Pissed” or “Pissed off?”).

  3. Share your advice for the Class of 2011 | MiddBlog

  4. So Clare speaks for all people with disabilities? Don’t think so. To speak with such certitude is laughable, Anon. I tutor students with disabilities and they, like you and Panther Pride, have multiple opinions on all issues, including this one, so you yourself do more damage to people with disabilities by assuming there is one voice, one perspective, for the entire community with disabilities.

    Fear of success in oneself and others is sorrowful.

  5. Neither Clare nor I assume “one voice” for all PWD. Puh-leaze. What we’re both versed in is *disability justice,* though; you might do your tutees a favor by versing yourself in it. Because—(guess what, Charles!)—there’s been a bit of a movement in the past few decades to create access and combat ableism, and nondisabled people who don’t familiarize themselves with it and then assume they know what they’re talking about because they know a handful of PWD now just sound obnoxious.

    The fact remains that Middlebury College called on Chris Waddell to be a supercrip to inspire able-bodied graduates, and that’s just plain gross.

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