Leaders in arts, community will speak at Marlboro commencement

Shaunna Oteka McCovey, Sara Coffey will share their experience with class of 2018

MARLBORO — Marlboro College's 71st commencement will take place on the morning of May 13, marking the third year that both undergraduate and graduate students will be celebrated together.

A highlight of the event will be the comments of two leaders in their respective fields: poet, writer, and tribal sovereignty and self-governance advocate Shaunna Oteka McCovey; and Vermont Performance Lab director and alumna Sara Coffey '90.

“Shaunna and Sara have each worked to improve social, economic, and environmental justice through art and advocacy in ways that exemplify Marlboro's values and educational purpose,” said Kevin Quigley, Marlboro College president, in a news release. “Both of them have an intimate understanding of what Marlboro offers students, and how crucial this self-directed, liberal arts education is in a rapidly changing world.”

“Sara, of course, has her years of experience as a World Studies Program student, engaged alumna, and former trustee,” added Quigley. “Shaunna is connected to Marlboro through her collaboration with theater professor Jean O'Hara, resulting in the production of Salmon is Everything she's sharing with the community on commencement weekend.”

An attorney with 12 years of experience in tribal administration, tribal sovereignty, and environmental justice, Shaunna Oteka McCovey is currently compact negotiator for the U.S. Department of Interior–Indian Affairs, Office of Self Governance. This means she conducts policy, technical, and program analysis to support self-governing tribes and resolve conflicts between them and Indian Affairs.

She has also supported marine planning and tribal sovereignty with nonprofit organizations such as the Ocean Conservancy, Ecotrust, and Point 97, as well as doing administration and legal work for the Yurok Tribe in northern California.

She received her bachelor's degree from Humboldt State University, her MSW from Arizona State University, and her Master of Studies in Environmental Law and J.D. from Vermont Law School, where she was a First Nations Environmental Law Fellow. She is also a published poet, with several poems, essays, and articles published in journals and anthologies and a book of poems, The Smokehouse Boys, published by Heyday Books in 2005.

Closer to home but just as vital, Coffey is the founding director of Vermont Performance Lab, a community-based arts organization linking art-making with civic engagement. Relying on her 25 years of experience as an arts leader, community organizer, and advocate, VPL supports new performance works and connects their creation and presentation with residents in local communities.

Coffey's innovative work and leadership at Vermont Performance Lab has been recognized by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Vermont Community Foundation for its programs and unique model.

Coffey received her bachelor's degree in anthropology and international studies from Marlboro College and an M.A. in performance studies from New York University. She has been an active volunteer in her community, serving on several school associations and boards including Marlboro College, the Governor's Institutes of Vermont, and the Broad Brook Community Center. She currently serves as co-chair of the New England Foundation for the Arts' Advisory Council.

On Friday, May 11, to kick off commencement weekend, there will be a reading and discussion based on the play Salmon is Everything, a collaborative community response to the unprecedented fish kill along the Klamath River in 2002.

Directed by theater professor Jean O'Hara, and followed with a community dialog led by McCovey, the reading is presented in collaboration with Vermont Performance Lab as part of their Confluence Project. The reading will take place at 7 p.m. in Whittemore Theater and is free and open to the public.

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