May 12, 2024: Commencement 2024, Remarks by President John C. Bravman

Good morning on this wonderful and long-awaited day!

I'm John Bravman, president of Bucknell University, and it is my pleasure to welcome the families and friends of the Class of 2024 to celebrate our graduates today.

I offer a most special welcome to all of the mothers who join us today. Today is a beautiful reminder of the importance of your influence on your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and special friends. Thank you for all you do to nurture them and to help them succeed.

And of course I also welcome our amazing Bucknell faculty and staff. From our admissions officers to our faculty, to those who made this incredible Commencement weekend possible, they have supported the Class of 2024 every step of the way. They are so deeply proud of your accomplishments.

We also welcome members of the Board of Trustees. They are generous volunteer leaders, and their dedication to the stewardship of this great University helps us to ensure that we will host many, many Commencement ceremonies to come.

And finally, I thank our keynote speaker, Dr. Nadia Sasso, a proud member of the Class of 2011, for returning to Bucknell to address the Class of 2024 today. We are honored to welcome her back to campus to deliver what will no doubt be a very special message to our graduates. More about Nadia in a few moments.

And now, let's do this, everyone: Congratulations, Class of 2024!

Today we celebrate you, our degree candidates, and your years of hard work and perseverance. You remained focused on your goals and today join a community of more than 56,000 Bucknell alumni worldwide.

As our chaplain noted in his introduction, true celebration confronts the transcendent meaning of one's actions. And the Class of 2024 has transcended so very much in the past four years.

Your lives abruptly changed in early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe as most of you were receiving your acceptance letters from Bucknell. That meant adjusting to remote learning as you worked to finish your last high school classes. It meant the cancellation of senior proms and trips, and the loss of other beloved traditions. It meant graduation ceremonies on Zoom.

Just a few months later, we welcomed you to Bucknell amid circumstances that were previously unimaginable. Your first years here, and beyond, were marked by masking, testing and social distancing. Quarantine and isolation. And at times, more remote classes.

It was undoubtedly a tough start. And there were bumps — a lot of bumps. But as a community, pulling together, we supported one another, and you remained focused on your education. You rose above the challenges to discover your passions and pursue your interests. As a class, you came together and succeeded, perhaps as never before.

But then, just a few weeks ago, you were tested again by the sudden loss of a dear friend and classmate, Christian Samay. Our entire community came together in mutual support — from his closest friends to those who had never had the opportunity to get to know him. We keenly felt the loss of a fellow Bucknellian. Please join me now in a moment of silence in Christian's honor.

Nothing will ever fill the void Christian left behind. But today we honor his memory as we award his earned bachelor of arts degree in political science. He is forever in our hearts, and forever a son of this University he and his family so love.

So, Class of 2024, today we salute you for your academic achievements — and so much more. We honor your courage and fortitude, your patience and persistence, and your deep capacity for friendship and for care. Remember that these enduring qualities are far more important in this world than your GPA, your major or your job.

Remember, too, that none of us succeeds without the support of others — family members and special friends, many of whom are here today to celebrate this milestone with you. And so, in a special tradition, I invite all of our graduates to please rise, turn around and thank your guests for their unwavering belief in your ability to succeed.

And now I ask that everyone who is able to please rise and join us in thanking the Bucknell faculty and staff, represented by my colleagues here today. Each of us cares so much about you!

Please be seated.

And now, again, I'd like to offer a special welcome to a dear friend and special guest of this university. Everyone here today is familiar with the name Malesardi — for whom this beautiful quad is named.

Doris Malesardi and her late beloved husband, Bob, a member of the Bucknell Class of 1945, are among the greatest benefactors in the history of our institution. And I am thrilled to share that Doris is here again today to celebrate with the Class of 2024, which includes her niece, Harper.

The Malesardi family is deeply committed to expanding access to Bucknell, as evidenced by their support of need-based financial aid. The matching-gift program they established to encourage others to follow their example has amplified greatly the impact of their own giving forever. They lead by example, and we are extremely grateful for their foresight and generosity.

Doris, we are so honored to welcome you and your family here today. Especially this year. Everyone, please join me in thanking Doris Malesardi for all she and Bob have done.

And now it’s my deep honor to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. Nadia Sasso, a creative storyteller and digital content provider who uses engaging, cross-platform cultural content that uses media as a storytelling tool to connect people around the world.

From her earliest days at Bucknell, it was clear that Dr. Sasso was going to have a remarkable impact on the world. The daughter of immigrants from Sierra Leone, she came to the University as a Posse Foundation scholar and majored in English and sociology, with a concentration in media and culture. As a student, she was a campus leader who served as president of the Black Student Union and an empowerment group for women, among many other activities.

While at the University, she was awarded a $10,000 Project for Peace grant. She and two childhood friends used the funding to start an organization that distributes birthing kits in Sierra Leone to improve birth and delivery rates and enhance the quality of life for women and children.

Her work quickly gained notice, and she received several honors, including being named one of Katie Couric's "Next Generation of Female Leaders." In 2013 Dr. Sasso was honored with the Posse Foundation's Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award for her commitment to social responsibility and her ability to inspire others. She went on to earn a master's degree from Lehigh University and a doctorate from Cornell.

Today, Dr. Sasso builds inclusivity in the entertainment industry through her app, BlaytorBox, which connects companies, brands and filmmakers to diverse professionals working in creative fields. Through her entrepreneurial and creative ventures, she has worked with award-winning performers, authors and filmmakers; and she has led creative campaigns working with such clients as Viacom, Nielsen, UBS, the Peace Corps and the United Nations. Dr. Sasso has leveraged her background in diversity, marketing, communications and new media with the White House, the Smithsonian and universities around the globe.

She is also a documentary filmmaker who focuses on advocating for the Black experience in the United States. Dr. Sasso made her creative debut in 2015 with an independent film Am I Too African to be American, Too American to be African?, which she produced and directed. She provides expert insight and advice on content for TV shows and movies relating to the African diaspora, and is a frequent social impact honoree, public speaker and panelist at conferences and universities.

Needless to say, Bucknell is incredibly proud of Dr. Sasso, who was featured in a 2019 Bucknell Magazine cover story and in 2021 received Bucknell's Young Alumni Award.

This is also a very special moment for me because I knew Dr. Sasso, then just Nadia, as a young student. And she was in my first graduating class here in 2011. Anyone who knew her is not surprised by what's happened since. A lot has happened, but we are not surprised. I am absolutely thrilled that she is again joining me on this stage, this time as our honored guest.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Nadia Sasso.

Last Word

(following the Class Response by Lea Tarzy '24)

Thank you, Lea.

Well, graduates, congratulations to all of you! Let the record show that the sun has come out! And with a little imagination, I can see some blue sky.

Remember that Bucknell will always be home, wherever life takes you.

Moms, dads, families, friends, everyone — thank you for entrusting us with your most precious treasure: your child. It means so much more to us than we could ever tell you. We can't wait to see what they do next.

Fear is a perfectly normal human emotion. We've all had fear. It's built into us. You may not know that fear can also be remembered as an acronym: F.E.A.R. For some, at some points in time, it means Forget Everything and Run. But there are times, for some, when F.E.A.R. means Face Everything and Rise.

This class has risen.

What you've done in the last four years is something I will always cherish throughout the remainder of my days.

And so I ask you now, one more time as a class, to rise and say: 'ray Bucknell!

If everyone would now please rise for the singing of our alma mater.