Delivered at Bucknell University's 171st Commencement, May 23, 2021
Welcome and Introduction
Thank you, everyone. Please be seated.
Well, good morning on this glorious day!
A special welcome to the families and friends of the Class of 2021, who have traveled here today to join us in celebrating the newest graduates of Bucknell University.
And welcome to the University's faculty and staff. They've supported every step of your journey. And they're here today, filled with pride, to share in the joys of your accomplishment.
I want to thank our keynote speaker, Ms. Audra Wilson, a proud member of the Class of 1994, for addressing our graduates today. We are thrilled to welcome her home to her alma mater, and so grateful for her participation in all three of today's Commencement ceremonies. As a track athlete, she knows this venue well.
I'd like to begin by taking you back 1,373 days, to Aug. 20, 2017. It was the night before your first day of college classes, and we gathered in the Weis Center for your Convocation ceremony.
Let's flash back for a moment to those tentative early days on campus, when you were fresh out of high school.
For starters, you actually needed your campus map.
You immediately had to learn how to live with people you didn't know, which can be really fun and — let's face it — really weird.
You might have done your own laundry for the first time. The results probably were mixed.
Most significantly, you almost certainly found yourself facing an academic curriculum of previously unimaginable breadth and challenge.
And it probably didn't take you long to realize how much you leveled up in making the leap to college. You weren't always the smartest, most accomplished person in class anymore. Or the second. Or even the … Well, you get it.
All of this was certainly a lot to take in at once. But at the same time, something amazing was happening.
You began to grasp the vast opportunities you had to study new topics, and combine them in different ways. And I hope that was a thrilling discovery.
So was getting to know people with backgrounds and ideas that are different than yours.
Your classmates' intelligence and drive and curiosity inspired you. You encouraged each other to persevere, and cheered each other's successes, in and out of the classroom.
You may have taken risks by exploring new personal interests, or deepening your involvement in favorite pursuits.
In this tight-knit community, in this small rural town, you began to understand how big the world truly is.
And let's be real: Since March of last year, you've been navigating a global pandemic while navigating college — and you have succeeded, brilliantly. We are so very proud of the way you handled this challenge as Bucknellians.
Your ability to adapt and succeed under the circumstances of the last 15 months, with grit and determination, tells me that you are truly ready for anything in your next chapter.
Now, I don't want to give COVID any more airtime, because frankly, it does not define you or your experience here at Bucknell. Today we celebrate the culmination of all of your efforts over the last many years.
Of course, the real journey to this moment began long before Aug. 20, 2017. For most of you, it began 21 or 22 years ago. Your parents' guidance and support, along with that of other family members and special friends, was vital. You cannot imagine the pride they feel today in your achievement.
I also want to recognize the Bucknell faculty and staff, represented by some of my colleagues here today. Every University employee is deeply invested in your happiness and success. We are honored to have accompanied you through such a significant period of your life, and we are so proud of the growth we've been privileged to nurture during these last four years.
So graduates, please stand, turn around, and join me by thanking your family, and our own faculty and staff, for supporting you so well.
Thank you, please be seated.
It is now my honor to introduce our keynote speaker, Ms. Audra Wilson. She is the president and chief executive officer of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, which promotes equal justice and economic opportunity across the country. Throughout her exceptional career, she has earned acclaim for her leadership on behalf of those most impacted by inequality.
That career began right here at Bucknell, where Ms. Wilson majored in international relations and Spanish. Here, steeped in the liberal arts, she developed the critical thinking and communication skills she'd need to succeed in law school. Here, too, Ms. Wilson became involved in civic engagement activities, a passion she'd pursue as her life's work.
These Bucknell experiences would serve her well as she launched her career as a staff attorney at the Shriver Center, where she focused on welfare reform and food security.
In 2004, Ms. Wilson was named press and policy director for the U.S. Senate campaign of former President Barack Obama. After the election, she served as director of diversity education and outreach and adjunct professor at Northwestern's Pritzker School of Law. There, she co-founded the first formal consortium of law school diversity professionals in Chicago. During this time, Ms. Wilson also served as a policy adviser to leading candidates in elections for the U.S. Senate as well as for the offices of Illinois state treasurer and lieutenant governor.
In 2013, Ms. Wilson was named deputy chief of staff for United States Congresswoman Robin Kelly in the 2nd Congressional District of Illinois. In this role, she served as lead state coordinator of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.
Then, as executive director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Ms. Wilson led critical change to expand the organization's mission. She advanced the league's advocacy on issues of race, equity and voting rights, and enhanced fundraising and communications. In 2019, Ms. Wilson was appointed chair of the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues. Last year, she returned to the Shriver Center to direct the organization.
We are so proud of Ms. Wilson, who truly exemplifies the power of Bucknellians to change the world. I am pleased to share that she was recently elected to join Bucknell's Board of Trustees, where her leadership, experience and wisdom will greatly benefit the University. We are so honored that she has joined us today to address our graduates, particularly at the end of a year in which our dedication to ensuring the safety, rights and dignity of all has been tested as never before.
Please join me in welcoming Ms. Audra Wilson.
Well thank you, Ruby, for sharing your remarkable reflections with us today.
What kind of first-year student, in the first two weeks of classes, seeks to make an appointment with the President, just because? You just heard her talk.
Graduates, at your Convocation, I spoke of our hopes for your next four years. Then, I said, in part:
"You will acquire more than an education and more than a diploma ... you will acquire a great part of the identity that will shape you and who you will become. You will acquire ideas and interests. You will acquire memories. You will acquire new ways of understanding history, art, literature, languages, technology, science, business, the economy, as well as the body and the spirit. You will acquire the friendships of a lifetime. And, I assure you, you will acquire not only new ways of seeing each other, but also new ways of seeing yourself."
I think that mission has been accomplished.
It's said of this generation that they lack grit and determination. You proved them wrong.
Go forward knowing that you will always be Bucknellians, and will carry the lessons of the last four years, and the ties to this community, with you forever.
Carry the ideals of Audra Wilson, and work to make our world a better place.
Carry the spirit of Ruby Lee, and choose empathy, courage and yes, vulnerability.
And please stay connected to Bucknell. We can't wait to see what you do next and to watch you soar.
We congratulate you and wish you all the best.
And now, I invite everyone who is able to please rise and join me in singing our alma mater.