14 Excerpts from Commencement Speeches Without the Word C*vid

(And only Dr. Fauci gets to say “p*ndemic,” because he’s Dr. Fauci.)

By Amelia Nierenberg

Commencement speeches can bleed together. Adversity: overcome. Mountains: climbed. Friendships: lifelong.

But this year, as esteemed speakers across the country noted, graduation really is a victory.

“Surviving means that you have come through the catastrophe but you’re still relatively intact,” the basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told graduates at Washington University in St. Louis. “Thriving is about learning and growing as a result of the event. That’s what graduations are all about.”

The pandemic, ever-present, did not derail plans. Some schools held virtual commencements, while others only allowed the students themselves to attend in person. Instead of one commencement speaker, some schools invited several people to offer advice to graduates. A few staggered ceremonies to make room for social distancing, prompting some college presidents to go ahead and do the deed themselves.

“I couldn’t ask a guest speaker to speak 28 times,” joked Kent Fuchs, the president of the University of Florida.

Many speakers noted that graduates will face myriad challenges long after disease recedes. Young people will continue to lead protest movements. They will enter a work force reshaped by lockdowns and join economies buffered by the effects of climate change. The future, though bright, is profoundly uncertain.

Still, speakers reminded masked and socially distanced graduates to look for the joy.

Maria Taylor, an ESPN reporter, summed it all up in a speech at her alma mater, the University of Georgia: “To the class of 2021, y’all made it!”

Miguel A. Cardona

Dr. Cardona is the U.S. Secretary of Education. He spoke to the graduating class at the University of Connecticut.

The top song on the Billboard Music charts today is “Save Your Tears,” by The Weeknd and Ariana Grande. In it, they tell the person to save their tears for another day. After this past year, we struggled together, we cried together, and we experienced loss together.

But graduates, today is a new day. Save your sad tears for another day.

Deborah N. Archer

Ms. Archer is the president of the American Civil Liberties Union. She spoke to graduates at New York University, where she serves as a professor of clinical law and a co-faculty director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law.

There’s a saying in the Black community, that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. And I believe that and I have felt that so many times. And each and every one of you should feel that powerfully today. You have achieved things that your ancestors would never have imagined.

Jimmy Dunne

Mr. Dune helped his company, Sandler O’Neill, recover after the 9-11 attacks. He spoke at Notre Dame, his alma mater, about the lessons he learned from that day.

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