May 14, 2023: Commencement 2023 Remarks

Bucknell president John C. Bravman stands at a podium on the Commencement stage, smiling and wearing sunglasses.

Bucknell President John C. Bravman commended the Class of 2023 for their years of hard work and their willingness to lean into uncertainty. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

Thank you, Tom. Fantastic job. Everyone, please be seated.

Well, good morning on this truly glorious day! What class more than this deserves such a day? I'm John Bravman, president of Bucknell University, and I am so pleased to welcome the families and friends of the Class of 2023 to help celebrate the newest graduates of Bucknell University. A most special welcome to the mothers here today, seeing the young lives you nurtured from their earliest moments make this once in a lifetime transition.

Welcome, too, to the University's faculty and staff. They've supported every step of our students' journeys. They are here today, filled with pride, to share in the joy of our students' accomplishments.

We also welcome members of our Board of Trustees who are here for this culminating event. They are generous volunteer leaders who are dedicated to the stewardship of this great University.

I want to thank our keynote speaker, Jay Wright, a proud member of the Class of 1983, for returning to Bucknell to address the Class of 2023 today. We are thrilled to welcome him home — 40 years later! — and we look forward to hearing his special message for our graduates.

Let's make it official: Congratulations, Class of 2023!

Today we celebrate our degree candidates and their years of hard work and dedication. You have risen to the challenge and today join a community of more than 50,000 Bucknell alumni worldwide.

A lot has happened since your arrival at Bucknell nearly four years ago. I always say that, right? But little did we know what was ahead.

Where were you on the evening of Aug. 25, 2019? Most of you were gathered in the Weis Center, where I delivered my Convocation address to the Class of 2023.

Convocation is a milestone occasion for first-year students. It is held the night before their classes begin, and marks the beginnings of their undergraduate journey. It's a time of excitement, mixed with more than a bit of trepidation and uncertainty.

At Convocation, you might have wondered if you were really ready to meet the demands of college academics — or if you could even find your classes.

You might have felt anxious about making new friends.

Maybe you were hungry and wondered if the caf would still be open if I ever just stopped talking.

But we at Bucknell knew — we knew — that you would thrive here. And on that night, I encouraged you to embrace life's most daunting challenges, starting then and there.

As evidenced by your accomplishments of the past four years, which included living through a global pandemic, you took my words to heart. You tested scientific theories. You conducted fieldwork. You sang and you danced. You wrote papers of increasing complexity. You started businesses and you studied abroad. You stepped up to volunteer, and to lead. And you took risks.

You weren't always quite sure what you were doing. But you learned to lean into that uncertainty.

You tapped into your critical thinking skills and leveraged the power of collaboration. You became adept communicators. When you hit snags, you stayed focused and flexible, and you adjusted as needed to reach your goals.

These are core values for Bucknellians, and they will last you a lifetime. Whether you are an artist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, your presence on Malesardi Quad this morning proves that you have the skills that have served our alumni so well for so many generations.

And now, for the best part. The same values and skills that allow you to seize unexpected opportunities also equip you to handle the other type of uncertainty: the kind that comes with a crisis.

You've undoubtedly faced setbacks as a student. A disappointing grade, maybe a romance that didn't quite work out as you'd hoped, or perhaps a season-ending injury. Again, your very presence here today demonstrates your ability to meet unexpected difficulties head-on.

And of course, as a group you faced perhaps the biggest hurdle of all: Most of your undergraduate experience has taken place in the context of a global pandemic.

1,160 days ago, on March 10, 2020, I sent an email — the most difficult "hit send" in my entire career. I said, "Come back to campus, pack up, and go home." This was not a popular decision. I thought about reading some of your responses, but then I came to my senses. But in the 900,000+ emails I've received since becoming Bucknell's president, I can assure you, those I will keep. Do you remember when "zoom" meant to go fast? Do you remember when only doctors and nurses wore masks, and then only in the OR? Who would have thought we'd use an app to schedule an appointment so that someone could stick a swab way up your nose? You've done it all, and here you are today. You've navigated the challenges of the pandemic's most difficult uncertain days while continuing to work toward your degree. Some of you experienced the loss of a loved one. Yet your resolve remained constant, even as we were all uncertain what to expect as COVID-19 swept the entire globe. I am extraordinarily proud of your commitment to your own education, and to each other.

As you leave campus today as a Bucknell graduate, do so with the confidence that you can handle anything.

But remember, too, that none of us, none of us, succeeds alone. You had the support of your parents, family members and special friends, many of whom are here today to celebrate this milestone with you. Therefore graduates, please rise, turn around, and thank them for their commitment and belief in your ability and potential.

And now, like never before, I ask that everyone who is able to please rise and join us in thanking the Bucknell faculty and staff, represented by my colleagues to my left and right. Every one of my colleagues cares so much about our students' success. We are unbelievably proud of each and every one of them.

Please be seated.

Now 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 — as in our beautiful Malesardi Quad.

Doris Malesardi and her beloved late husband, Bob, a member of the 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 2023.

The Malesardi family is deeply committed to expanding access to Bucknell, as evidenced by their generous support of need-based financial aid. And by creating a matching-gift program to encourage others to follow their example, they have amplified the impact of their own giving to an extraordinary degree. We are extremely grateful for their foresight and leadership.

Doris, we are so honored to have you with us today. I ask everyone to please join me in thanking Doris Malesardi for all she and Bob have done to transform the lives of future generations of Bucknellians.

It's now my honor to introduce our keynote speaker, Mr. Jay Wright, the CBS Sports college basketball analyst and legendary former head coach of the Villanova University men’s basketball program.

During his 21-year tenure at Villanova, Mr. Wright led the Wildcats to four Final Four tournaments and two NCAA championships. He retired from coaching in April 2022 but remains dedicated to Villanova, where he now serves as a special assistant to the president.

Mr. Wright is a two-time winner of the Naismith National Coach of the Year award and a six-time Big East Coach of the Year recipient. In 2020, he was named the Associated Press Men's Basketball Coach of the Decade. Mr. Wright also received the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in 2018, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Beyond Villanova, Mr. Wright has coached basketball teams representing the United States three times in international competitions. He led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2005 World University Games as head coach, and was an assistant coach in the 2000 World Championship for Young Men Qualifying Tournament. And he coached the American team in the 2007 Pan American Games to a fifth-place finish.

But more importantly, Mr. Wright has always prioritized academics and made sure his players succeeded as students. Every single Villanova men's basketball player who spent four years in his program earned his degree. That speaks to the values he developed at Bucknell, where he was a student-athlete who majored in economics and sociology, and played on the basketball team.

In a 2017 interview with Bucknell Magazine, Mr. Wright confirmed that his approach and success as a coach have deep roots in his time at Bucknell. He said he arrived at Bucknell totally focused on basketball. But he soon discovered that everywhere he turned — and I quote — "these people are much more about your character and your intelligence than they are about your athletic ability. That's where it hit me — there is much more to life than just being a good basketball player."

I'd be remiss not to note that Bucknell is also where the world first got a glimpse of Mr. Wright's impeccable taste in fashion, as he and a Bison teammate regularly tried to outdress one another. As a coach wearing custom-tailored suits on the sidelines, Mr. Wright was widely known for his award-winning sense of style. The media nicknamed him "GQ Jay."
Now that is a well-rounded Bucknellian.

We are incredibly proud of you, Jay, and so eager to hear your reflections on this special day. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Jay Wright.

Last Word

Don't need a Bucknell education to know that mothers are always right.

I want to quote to you something that I heard as a final word 44 years ago at my own commencement. In a very different time and place. The words have to be heard carefully in context.

They're from Adlai Stevenson II, who graduated from Princeton in 1922, and he said these words when he was speaking at the Princeton senior class dinner in 1954: "Your days are short here. This is the last of your springs. And now, in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth. Feel the hem of heaven. You will go away with old, good friends, and don't forget when you leave why you came."

Graduates, congratulations. Moms, dads, parents, everyone — thank you for giving us these wonderful young people for these last four years.

'ray Bucknell!

Please join us now for singing the alma mater.