2024 Commencement Speaker

bernie sanders

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is serving his third term in the United States Senate after winning re-election in 2018. His previous 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives make him the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. 

Born in 1941 in Brooklyn, Sanders attended James Madison High School, Brooklyn College, and the University of Chicago. After graduating in 1964, he moved to Vermont. In 1981, he was elected (by 10 votes) to the first of four terms as mayor of Burlington. Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Hamilton College in upstate New York before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress. 

The Almanac of American Politics calls Sanders a “practical and successful legislator.” Throughout his career, he has focused on the shrinking American middle class and the growing income and wealth gaps in the U.S. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Sanders passed legislation reforming the VA health care system in 2014. Congressional Quarterly said he was able “to bridge Washington’s toxic partisan divide and cut one of the most significant deals in years.” 

Today, Sanders remains on the veterans committee and was tapped by Senate leadership to chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. He also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he has focused on global warming and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Sanders is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he has championed efforts to transform our energy system from fossil fuels to renewable power sources like solar and wind. He also sits on the Senate Budget Committee, which he was chairman of last Congress, and led the committee’s fight against corporate greed.

Previous Commencement Speakers

  • 2023: Ronald A. Crutcher, D.M.A., president emeritus of Wheaton College and the University of Richmond, national leader in higher education, distinguished classical musician
  • 2022: Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., social psychologist at New York University's Stern School of Business
  • 2021: Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D., director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • 2019: Honorable Janet T. Mills, Governor of Maine
  • 2018: Catherine A. Sanderson, Ph.D., Manwell Family Professor of Life Sciences (Psychology), Amherst College
  • 2017: Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
  • 2016: Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr., James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership at Emory University, Director of the Religion Department of the Chautauqua Institution
  • 2015: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, President/CEO, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England 
  • 2014: Gregory W. Powell, J.D., CEO/President of Dexter Enterprises, Inc, & Chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation
  • 2013: Honorable Angus King (I), U.S. Senator, Maine
  • 2012: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D)
  • 2011: Congressman Michael Michaud (D)
  • 2010: Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., President of the Institute of Medicine
  • 2009: Rita Colwell, Ph.D., Nationally-respected Scientist and Educator
  • 2008: John McKernan, Former Governor of Maine
  • 2007: Robert Shetterly, Maine Artist and Author
  • 2006: Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic Gold Medalist
  • 2005: Olympia J. Snowe, United States Senator, Maine
  • 2004: Henry L. P. Schmelzer, President and CEO Maine Community Foundation
  • 2003: Henry L. P. Schmelzer, President and CEO Maine Community Foundation
  • 2002: Daniel Wathen, Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court
  • 2001: Congressman Tom Allen, U.S. Congressman, Maine
  • 2000: Robert McAfee, Former President of the American Medical Association, UNE Board of Trustees member
  • 1999: Susan Collins, U.S. Senator, Maine
  • 1998: Richard MacPherson
  • 1997: Marvin Wachman, Ph.D.
  • 1996: Olympia Snowe, U.S. Senator, Maine 
  • 1995: Judith Isaacson
  • 1994: Rev. John Brooks
  • 1993: Thomas Andrews
  • 1992: Dorothy Cotton
  • 1991: Marie Gadsden, Ph.D.
  • 1990: George Mitchell 
  • 1989: Andrew McGuire
  • 1988: Dr. David Matthews
  • 1987: Dodge Morgan
  • 1986: Douglas Edwards
  • 1985: Assoc. Justice Caroline D. Glassman, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
  • 1984: Honorable Joseph E. Brennan, Governor of Maine
  • 1983: Arthur Elliott Levine, Ph.D., President, Bradford College (Bradford, MA)
  • 1982: James Russell Wiggins, Editor and Publisher, Ellsworth American
  • 1981: Honorable William S. Cohen, U.S. Senator, Maine
  • 1980: William J. Caldwell, Columnist, Portland Press Herald & Maine Sunday Telegram
  • 1979: F. Stephen Larrabee, Ph.D., National Security Council
  • 1978: Benjamin M. Ziegler, Ph.D., Educator, Amherst College
  • 1977: Honorable Sherry Huber
  • 1976: Dr. Elsa M. Meder
  • 1975: Dr. Scott Nearing, Economist, Farmer, and Author
  • 1974: Reverend Paul C. Reinert, President, St. Louis University
  • 1973: Dr. Kenneth E. Eble
  • 1972: Dr. Richard Weigle, President, Saint John’s College (Annapolis, Maryland)
  • 1971: The Honorable Kenneth M. Curtis
  • 1970: The Honorable James L. Farmer, A.B., B.D., Assistant Secretrary, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • 1969: The Honorable Frank Licht A.B., and L.L.D., Governor of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation
  • 1968: Mr. Edwin D. Canham, Editor-in-Chief, Christian Science Monitor
  • 1967: Dr. Donald M. MacKenzie, President, Park College (Parkville, Missouri)
  • 1966: Rev. Bernard Haring, Department of Religious Studies, Brown University
  • 1965: His Excellency The Most Reverand Ernest Primeau, Bishop of Manchester
  • 1964: Dr. John W. McDeVitt, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus
  • 1963: Dr. Philip Lambert
  • 1962: Father Juvenal Lawlor
  • 1961: Rev. Edward V. Stanford
  • 1960: Reverend Msgr. Robert J. White
  • 1959: Mr. William B. Mahoney
  • 1958: Reverend Mark Franck
  • 1957: Dr. Harry Doyle
  • 1956: Reverend Kevin Kidd
  • 1955: Reverend Fernand Porter
  • 1954: His Excellency The Most Reverend Daniel J. Feeney