Having a beautiful spring day for this year’s virtual commencement ceremonies didn’t technically matter, but it somehow made the screen-mediated festivities feel slightly closer to how they should be observed. While it might be cold comfort to this year’s graduates, the added knowledge that we’re quickly approaching a return to “normalcy” lent a buoyancy to the ceremony that the occasion deserves.
As several speakers pointed out, this year’s graduates have had to work harder, adjust to more rapid change, and remain more flexible and patient than any graduating class in history. It was refreshing to see the general lack of interest in sugarcoating the year’s challenges: Sharing some personal adversity as well as the difficulties of studying remotely, student speaker Lesley Brock emphasized the way the community internalized the military maxim to “embrace the suck,” and to be that much more creative with work and kind to and understanding of one another.
Dean Kyte, touching on a laundry list of global challenges that intensified over the past year, highlighted the need for a “hybrid coalition of civil society, philanthropies, and government,” and tasked the graduating class of 2021 to join that fray. “And when you enter that room,” she added,”you will find others from the Fletcher School at the other side of the table.”
In his keynote remarks, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi likewise did not shy from highlighting a variety of crisis-level international issues, including a “scandalous inequality of global vaccine distribution” and the climate emergency. “I have painted a very dark portrait of the world today,” he said, “but it is important not to despair but to fight to make the world as it ought to be.” He concluded with a call for clear-eyed engagement with the world’s most pressing problems without succumbing to cynicism, some good advice for all of us.
Congratulations to all our 2021 grads, and thanks for making it a year worth celebrating in spite of unprecedented obstacles! We’re immensely proud of all of you.