Musical pioneer Anaïs Mitchell to give college commencement address


Anaïs Mitchell

MIDDLEBURY — Anaïs Mitchell, acclaimed playwright, composer and musician, will deliver the 2021 Middlebury College Commencement address on Saturday, May 29. A New Haven native, 1999 graduate of Mount Abraham Union High School and 2004 Middlebury College graduate, Mitchell is the creative force behind the hit musical “Hadestown.”

One of the leading artistic voices of her generation, Mitchell began work on “Hadestown” — a reimagination of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice — years before it appeared on Broadway. The production debuted in Barre, Vermont, in 2006 before it toured across New England. Mitchell gained international recognition following the premiere of “Hadestown” in Alberta, London and then New York, where it opened in 2019. Later that year “Hadestown” went on to win eight Tony Awards and Mitchell won the Tony Award for Best Original Score. In 2020 the show also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

“Anaïs Mitchell stands apart from all other modern singer-songwriters for her imagination, storytelling and tremendous songwriting talent,” said Middlebury President Laurie Patton.

“It is an honor to have Anaïs as our Commencement speaker. She is as interested in the world around her as the one inside her and she tackles big themes through music and theater — skills that will inspire our seniors as they prepare to enter the wider world.”

Mitchell has released seven albums since 2002, and her first book, “Working on a Song,” about writing — and rewriting — the lyrics of “Hadestown,” was published in 2020. Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020.

Mitchell grew up in Addison County. She majored in political science at Middlebury College and attended the Middlebury Arabic School in 2003.

Mitchell will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts at this month’s Middlebury commencement ceremony.

Middlebury will honor three other distinguished individuals, who are also from Vermont, with honorary degrees this year: Middlebury Area Land Trust volunteer John B. Derick, Vermont State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, and civil rights leader Curtiss Reed Jr.

“We are thrilled this year to have a group of honorary degree recipients who are all from Vermont,” said Patton. “This is especially fitting in a year when working with the town of Middlebury, Addison County, and the state of Vermont has been critical to our success as an academic institution. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of these relationships and we are deeply grateful to our local community for all their support.”

Members of the graduating class will attend the ceremony in person with up to two guests per student. The ceremony will also be simulcast. More information about Commencement is available here.

HONORARY DEGREES

Here is more information about the three additional honorary degree recipients:

John B. Derick is a trailblazer, literally and figuratively, in the Middlebury community. For more than 30 years, Derick served as the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) coordinator and a volunteer with the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT). Following his retirement from the Shoreham Telephone Company, he worked daily to improve the TAM. For decades, Derick built trails, performed maintenance, directed volunteers, and led an immeasurable number of projects. He was also instrumental in the development of the Vermont section of the North Country Trail. Inspiring the next generation of trail leaders, Derick has worked with countless volunteers and interns from Middlebury College. In 2015, MALT established the John B. Derick TAM Endowment Fund to carry his legacy into the future. Today, he serves on MALT’s trails committee to ensure the future preservation of the TAM and continues to be a dedicated leader of environmental conservation in Vermont.

Dr. Mark Levine is a revered public health advocate and healthcare leader in Vermont. In 2017, Vermont Governor Phil Scott appointed him commissioner of health. As the head of the Vermont Department of Health (VDH), Levine directs statewide efforts to combat COVID-19 and has received national recognition for his leadership during the pandemic. He has also focused the department’s work on increasing healthcare access and promoting a culture of health in the state. Before assuming his current role, he taught at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, where he served as professor of medicine, associate dean for graduate medical education, and vice chair for education in the Department of Medicine. He maintains his faculty appointment and continues to actively teach. Levine has practiced general internal medicine with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention. He has also served as vice president and president-elect of the Vermont Medical Society.

Curtiss Reed Jr. is a civil rights leader in Vermont and a champion of equity and inclusion who has dedicated his career to service, advocacy, and fighting for the rights of all Vermonters. Reed joined the Peace Corps and moved to Tunisia in 1983, and later worked in cooperative business development in Niger, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, and Mali. Since 2001, he has served as the executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, a resource that provides Vermont organizations in every sector, from businesses and government to education, with assistance regarding issues of inclusion, diversity, and equity. Reed is also the president of CRJ Consulting Group, L3C, former chair of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and a consultant to the Vermont State Police, Vermont Public Radio, and the Waterbury-based brewery The Alchemist. He leads numerous statewide programs as well, including I Am a Vermonter, Vermont African American Heritage Trail, and Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Initiative.

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Addison County Independent