Commencement 2024: Remarks to the Graduates

Commencement 2024: Remarks to the Graduates

Commencement 2024 was a glorious, albeit soggy affair as we gathered on the front lawn on Friday evening and Saturday morning to award more than 200 degrees amid drizzle and raindrops.  The weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of our graduates, and we extend congratulations once more to all!  Because of the rain, we chose to set aside some of the prepared speeches — but there are some important messages here, and so below are links to all of the speeches, both those delivered “live” and those that we withheld.  I hope you can take a few minutes to read and reflect on these:

Ms Karla Núñez Pérez ’24, B.S. in Public Health and Sociology, summa cum laude

Ms. Chaka Asaskiwa Alexander ’24, B.A. in Early Childhood Education, summa cum laude

Dean Sita Ramamurti, College of Arts & Sciences

Dean Brigid Noonan, School of Nursing and Health Professions

Dean Christine Carrino Gorowara, School of Education

Dean Thomas Mostowy, School of Professional and Graduate Studies

Given the importance of the issues, I am taking the liberty of publishing my entire text below, and I hope you can take time to read this and offer comments in the comment box:

Remarks for the 2024 Commencements
President Patricia McGuire
Trinity Washington University

Each year at commencement it is customary for the president to provide a brief report on the state of the university and the state of the world we expect our graduates to lead and change for the better.

I am pleased to say that the state of Trinity is well.  We continue our celebration of Trinity’s 125th Anniversary era, recalling the courage of the religious women who blazed trails twelve decades ago so that our students today could walk across this stage armed with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the larger society.  Each day we thank the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our Founders, for the many gifts of Trinity in our lives.

This year we have enjoyed the many successes of our students and faculty.  You are the class that has triumphed in spite of so many setbacks — the strange, alienating years of Covid-19, the racial reckonings after the death of George Floyd, the weird and often bizarre acts of political theater that take away too much time from serious national governance.  You have achieved so much despite these challenges.

We celebrate the achievements of our faculty.  We are particularly pleased and proud to recognize Dr. Stacey Baugh of Psychology who was promoted to Full Professor by the Board of Trustees.  We also recognize and congratulate Dr. Joshua Wright who achieved tenure, also conferred by the Board of Trustees.

We also are saying thanks and farewell to three cherished faculty colleagues who are retiring.

Dr. Lee Chiang of Mathematics has been an invaluable member of our faculty for almost 30 years, since 1995.  A colleague fondly describes him as our “Differential Equations” guy. He was instrumental in getting the Math faculty to adopt statistical tools and computing platforms such as MATLAB and Minitab in his early years at Trinity. He is one of our most gracious and most helpful colleagues. Dr. Chiang goes with our deep gratitude for his devotion to Trinity and our students.  We wish him much joy and fulfillment in the next phase of his life pursuits.

Dr. Luane Oprea of Counseling has been a cherished member of the faculty for ten years, since 2014.  She earned tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2020.  Dr. Oprea played a central role in securing the first CACREP accreditation for the Counseling Program, and she has been a vital partner with Dr. Greer in advancing the Adverse Childhood Experiences Trauma Program supported by Kaiser Permanente.  As she retires, Dr. Oprea has our deep gratitude for all that she shared with us, and we wish her every joy and fulfillment in her next life stage.

Dr. Cynthia Greer arrived at Trinity 31 years ago as an associate dean in counseling and advising, soon becoming the Dean of Students, and later joining the faculty in Education and Counseling, moving up the ranks through achieving tenure and becoming an associate professor.  She contributed significantly to Trinity’s ability to secure CACREP accreditation.  A tireless advocate for social justice, her vision and leadership led to major funding from Kaiser Permanente to establish the ACEs in Trauma Program.   As she begins her well-deserved retirement she goes with the heartfelt gratitude of the entire Trinity community.

And now, a few words about the “state of the world” as we find it in 2024:

We cannot enjoy the gifts of a Trinity education for our own pleasure; the world beyond Michigan Avenue needs the advocacy, strength and resilience of every Trinity graduate across the years.  We are reminded that this weekend marks the 70th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandating integration in schools; and yet we know that progress in racial equity remains slow, even rolled back in some places.  We cannot relent in our quest for racial justice in these United States.

Among the many intractable problems that plague our world today, none may be more serious than the prevalence of violence that destroys lives, shatters families, hollows out the soul of our society.  This violence manifests itself everywhere we turn — the lawless street violence that murders a 3 year old baby sitting in a car in southeast; the official police violence that shoots young Black men at alarming rates; the state-sanctioned violence that treats immigrants and refugees at the border as disposable goods; the violence of terrorism that suddenly, cruelly drops horror from the sky, ripping families and nations apart; the nation-state violence of war that levels an entire civilization and its people in a mad act of retribution against the horrific act of terrorism.  Violence begets more violence.

How will we ever find a pathway to end the violence that has characterized so much of the first quarter of the 21st Century?

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places of reason that forge solutions to society’s most complex problems.  We teach our students that education is the antidote to violence, that knowledge can conquer the fear and ignorance that fuel human oppression, that the best solutions to achieve peace emerge from learned debate and dialogue, not shouting or intimidation.

But too often, as we have seen this spring, that lovely rhetoric floats away like so many soap bubbles, with the hot klieg lights of incessant media and political exploitation exposing the fault lines of the academy as a very human institution suffering the same ills as the society we are called to transform. At a time when Democracy, itself, faces challenges as never before from within our own country, with the real threat of potential loss of our fundamental freedoms and right to self-determination —- higher education seems convulsed in chaos and confusion, or so the headlines claim.

True, too many universities have become too self-referential, preoccupied with their status in rankings and wealth and sports championships, unable or unwilling to use their once-considerable social standing to be voices of reason and righteousness against the rising anti-democratic factions.  Too many college presidents increasingly refuse to mount the bully pulpit, even in the face of profound threats to academic freedom, freedom of speech, the right to due process, the right to equal protection of the laws, the very ideas of Democracy that are also essential for the university to function.  Silence becomes a debilitating concession to the authoritarian diktats that want less free speech and more conformity, fewer protests and more deference to power.

So it is, this spring, while some universities pursued an increasingly indefensible posture of silence, students and faculty spoke out against the terrible violence and horrendous human suffering in Gaza.  We just heard our eloquent Senior Class President Karla Núñez Pérez speak courageously on this issue.  We can have many different opinions about the politics of Israel and Palestine while standing in solidarity against the terrorist violence suffered by Israelis on October 7 and the violence of the Israeli war of retribution that has destroyed Gaza and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives.  We must certainly stand firmly against both Islamaphobia and anti-semitism.  It is no offense against the quest of the Jewish people to have safety and enjoyment in their own nation to say that Palestinians deserve the same. It is not unpatriotic to say that the United States must find its moral spine to broker a just and lasting peace rather than funding this horrific war.

In the midst of this crisis, some politicians have sought to exert control over universities by exploiting the campus protests, bringing pressure to bear on college leaders to tear down the encampments and discipline the demonstrators in a naked campaign to debilitate higher education by forcing us to repress free speech and academic freedom.  Rather than standing up against this outrageous abuse of political power, some universities have given in to the pressure, inviting extraordinarily repressive police responses against their own students and faculty.  If college campuses cannot tolerate the noisy cacophony and occasional chaos of righteous protest, what institutions can? Higher education must be the great counterweight to government to protect our free society.  But we cannot possibly say we stand for freedom if we destroy freedom in the name of saving it.  We cannot find solutions to violence if we default to violent tactics to maintain order.  We fail in our purpose as universities if we penalize faculty and students for expressing opinions that are disagreeable to our donors, our political overseers, our alumni or trustees.

And so I come back to the meaning of this day, this commencement, and what it means for all of the days to come in your lives, my fellow alumnae and alumni in Trinity’s Class of 2024.  Despite the chaos around us, Trinity is not at all confused about our mission and purpose, and neither are you, the great Red Class of 2024.  You already have deep lived experience in the most pressing human challenges of this century.  You have crossed borders, often with great peril; you have suffered discrimination because of who you are, how you look, how you speak, what you believe, who you love; you have witnessed the violence, indeed, you have experienced the awful consequences of lives and families shattered by violence.

And yet, despite or maybe because of your lived experience, you have become powerfully resilient, wildly ambitious, visionaries of a different future, unafraid to speak truth to whatever powers need to hear your voices loud, proud and persistent.  You have come here to Trinity to develop the talents you will need to lead your communities and families to that better future of our fondest hopes.  You will be nurses, counselors, business executives, diplomats, journalists, scientists, advocates and lawyers and community organizers.  Most important, you will be parents and teachers for the rising generations.  And in all of those roles you fulfill, you will also carry with you the hallmark values of Trinity:  a disposition of service to others, a passion for racial and social justice for all, relentless in your quest to be change agents for peace in every community you influence.

Trinity will be cheering you on each day, and praying for you with our great Trinity prayer, that the strength, wisdom and love of the Trinity be with you each day and through all the days to come.

2 Comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 Comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Thank you for sharing the ext of this very powerful, courageous, meaningful, relevant commencement speech with all of us out here in Notre Dame de Namur land. I am consoled and encouraged by your words. I hope you got a standing ovation!!

    Julie M Murray
  • Wonderful and important words, President McGuire! I wish I had been there in person!

    Joan Gordon Waks, Trinity Class of ‘66

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.