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Vermont Law School graduates urged to be ‘the sword or the shield’

SOUTH ROYALTON — Two hundred new graduates of Vermont Law School were sent on their way Saturday with words of advice for both the idealistic and the practical by commencement speaker Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of “Democracy Now!”

“You have to decide whether you are going to represent the sword or the shield,” she said during ceremonies on the village green.

Goodman, who developed a new model of grassroots political journalism, spoke to the crowd of nearly 1,000 guests about her years as an independent journalist. She opened by touting the work of former students from the school who have become leaders in the fight against global warming.

Next, Goodman recounted some of the history of independent journalists, beginning with the dawn of the nuclear age from the perspective of Wilfred Burchett, who went against Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s order to keep all Western journalists from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the U.S. decimated the Japanese cities with atomic bombs.

Goodman said that if it were not for the bravery of many independent and citizen journalists, we would never know about atrocities like those that occurred in Japan at the end of World War II or more recent violence in countries like the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, better known as East Timor, where Goodman was witness to the massacre of some 200 Timorese rallying for freedom.

Goodman also spoke about her arrest in the United States as she tried to report on the protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Goodman said that if it were not for a citizen who posted video of the protests on YouTube, she would have remained in jail for much longer than she did.

Goodman also spoke about Vermont’s place in history as the first state to abolish slavery in its Constitution and how moved she was when more than 200 years later she watched President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama enter the White House. Goodman said that at that moment she had to refuse a question from a CNN reporter and watch with awe the arrival of the first black president.

Goodman was one of three people honored at the ceremony with an honorary degree. She was joined by J. Scott Cameron, who graduated from Vermont Law School in 1980 and was a former chairman of the board of trustees, and Annie Leonard, author of “The Story of Stuff.”

Vermont Law School is ranked No. 1 in environmental law by U.S. News and World Report. Since the rankings began in 1991, Vermont Law School has been ranked first in environmental law 12 times and never lower than No. 2.

Those who graduated received degrees including Juris Doctor, Master of Law in environmental law, and Master of Environmental Law and Policy.

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