Families, friends, faculty, staff and my beloved fellow graduates: I am honored to stand here with you on this incredible day at Bucknell’s 166th Commencement ceremony. It is remarkable to realize all that has led to this point.
When I was applying to colleges and I started looking at Bucknell, something small stood out to me immediately: They called their mascot a bison, not a buffalo. This might seem meaningless, but as a future animal behavior major, these were the sorts of things I noticed. There is a common misconception that bison and buffalo are the same animal. Buffalo come from Asia and Africa while we have the American bison here, and so Bucknell was correct where many are often not. This precision, this commitment to getting it right, was my first impression of Bucknell University.
That commitment is something I have come to know in each and every one of you. I don’t know all of you personally, but I have seen your accomplishments. Everyone sitting here has pursued something — a major, sport, instrument, art, virtue, hobby or job — with that same dedication to getting it right. It’s a trait that permeates the Bucknell culture. We are members of a community that is infused not only with talent, but with the motivation to pursue that talent and realize its full potential.
I have seen it over our time here in the work we have published, the conferences we have populated, the performances and displays we have created, the games we have won, the recognition we have received, and the bonds we have formed. Each of us has chased and achieved a goal while we have been here — these are the things that stand behind the diplomas we received today, the things that give that paper life and substance.
I’d like to return to our mascot. Bison are truly magnificent creatures. They weigh in at about a ton and can stand over 6 feet tall at the shoulder, yet still manage to be fast and agile. They are intimidating and seemingly fearless animals. They have persevered through a changing world, overcoming every obstacle thrown their way. From surviving near extinction, to being recognized as the national mammal just a few weeks ago: They are the ultimate success story.
Over the course of our time here, I have seen our cohort develop a bravery and courage that awes me. We have grown from the moment we arrived, exploring new ideas and becoming steadfast and eloquent in our beliefs. In the last two years especially, I have seen so many of you stand up proudly and bravely to speak your minds, even if your views are unpopular or if you have suffered for expressing them. I have many of you to personally thank for opening my own eyes to new views and ideas. We do not all always agree, but we learn from our differences and have helped to create a community of open discourse where we speak for what we believe in. And we have tread through territory that was not always easy.
When bison feel threatened, they will circle around younger members of the herd to protect them. We are all peers here, but our community has faced difficult issues of inequality. Those problems have been at times heart-rending and distressing, but we have circled together to address them. We have stood up and shouted our worth, our determination for a better future, and our support for each other. We have marched in solidarity and signed creeds of respect. We have fueled conversations and pushed to recognize each voice among us.
It is a mark of our time here that the mission statement has been changed to address not merely men and women but students, because each and every one of us, no matter how we do or do not identify, is a part of this community and deserves equal recognition and respect. And I am so proud of every single person who has shared their story, who has spoken up for themselves or for others, who has reached out, who has offered love and support to make our community stronger, better and unified. We hear a lot about what “we do” as Bucknell — I think the best question to pose is if we care about each other. Because the answer is unequivocally: yes, we do.
In the circles of biology and animal behavior that I frequent, there’s a joke about the scientific names of animals repeating themselves over and over. The scientific name for our American plains bison is Bison bison bison. It may sound funny, but there’s a sense of self-assurance to that name; nothing else is needed. And I can’t help but think of the name that we all share: Bucknellian.
We have all earned our title of Bucknellian, which means everything I just spoke about. It means excellence; it means friendship and support; it means community. Often, we think of Bucknell as a place: as this place, this campus. But I am realizing that Bucknell is not merely that. Bucknell is Bucknellians.
We are about to graduate, but that does not mean we are about to leave Bucknell — we will never leave. Rather, we are stepping into the global community of Bucknellians, and we are taking with us all that we have learned and accomplished here. We will keep pursuing our dreams and getting it right. We will keep forming our ideas and speaking out. We will keep supporting each other and building up our community — and we are about to share all of that with generations of Bucknellians that are waiting to receive us. We are ready. We are stepping out to join the Bucknell that spreads across the globe, to find the paths to our greatest potential and to leave our mark on the world.
This isn’t “goodbye,” it’s “hello.” Class of 2016: welcome to the herd!