WuDunn to Graduates: Change the World, Change Yourselves
As the Class of 2014 prepared to leave Bucknell and enter the world, Sheryl WuDunn, speaking at the University’s 164th Commencement, offered the graduates a pair of lofty challenges: to change that world and to change themselves.
May 18, 2014, BY Matt Hughes
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Those two goals, noted WuDunn — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, business executive and co-author of three bestselling books — are inseparable. Even when our efforts to do good are modest, or fall short of our expectations, we gain from them, nearly every time.
"The experience will give you a new and broader perspective," WuDunn said. "Bucknell has already given you a strong foundation, and efforts to give back will build on that experience by helping you see your own life in a new light."
That isn't to say creating change, in the world or in ourselves, will come easy. Even the most well-intentioned efforts can be fraught with moral dilemmas.
WuDunn recounted an incident from the years she spent working for The New York Times in Beijing with her husband, Nicholas Kristof. A friend had asked her for letter of recommendation supporting his acceptance into an American university, but another acquaintance suggested that this person might be a spy for China's state security agency, and WuDunn had independent reasons to suspect the same. Refusing to write the letter might betray the acquaintance who had tipped her off, while agreeing would support the acceptance of a foreign spy into her home country.
For times like these, WuDunn said, the graduates must develop a compass to guide their decision-making, and the resiliency to rise up when their best efforts fail.
"I hope you will go out with a moral compass, take some risks but bounce back if they don't work, and try to make a difference," WuDunn told the graduates. "And in the process you will gain perspective, you will be happier, and, I have no doubt, you will change the world."
WuDunn directed her remarks to the nearly 900 graduates, 350 faculty and thousands of well-wishers gathered on the Academic Quad for Bucknell's 164th Commencement. This year, the University awarded 859 undergraduate and 26 graduate degrees. Among undergraduates, 702 were awarded degrees in the arts and sciences, and 157 received degrees in engineering. Among graduate students, 19 earned degrees in arts and sciences, seven in engineering. The graduates represent 33 states, the District of Columbia and 22 nations.
Following Bucknell tradition, the graduates began the ceremony by passing through the Christy Mathewson Memorial Gateway, which they last crossed four years ago, on the eve of the start of their first year. The ceremony then proceeded with a new tradition, established at last year's Commencement, as a student performed "The Star-Spangled Banner." This year the anthem was sung by Tom Carle, a tenor and 2014 graduate with degrees in music and sociology.
Joining the graduates in crossing the stage was David Boger '61, whom the University presented with an honorary doctor of science degree for his contributions to science, engineering, education, industry and environmental sustainability. Boger graduated from Bucknell with a chemical engineering degree, and went on to discover properties of fluids that have transformed practices in the petroleum, food and minerals industries. He is an international consultant and professor of engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
Like WuDunn, Bucknell President John Bravman challenged the graduates to continue to better themselves. Now in his fourth year at Bucknell, Bravman noted that he entered the University with the class and has shared in their journey. He said that he too has grown intellectually and personally in his time here, and he charged the class with continuing to build on the foundation that Bucknell has helped them lay.
"You have come so far," he told the class. "But do not let this day be the end of your intellectual journey. Instead, make this the beginning of a lifetime of learning, of leadership, of service, of friendship — a lifetime of adventure."
Student speaker Ralph "Chet" Otis added to those sentiments, noting that, even as they grow, the 2014 graduates will retain something of the University within themselves — that they will always be Bucknellians.
"You do not need to be a current student in order to proudly wear the title of Bucknellian," Otis said. "From this day forward, every Bucknellian you meet will share the unique and private feeling of being a graduate from this great university. The bond will be instantaneous and strong."
As much as the graduates grow hereafter, Otis noted, and for all of the good that they do, some things will never change.
Images from Commencement 2014
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