Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Urged George Washington University graduates to make their presence felt in the political arena and firmly stand up for their beliefs during her address to the classes of 2020 and 2021 on Saturday at the National Mall .
“Focus on what you believe in, then fight like hell for it,” said the Massachusetts senator who attended GW from 1966 to 1968.
In a passionate call for increased civic engagement – which addressed the current controversies of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Texas abortion law to struggles for racial justice and gender equality – the senator. Warren said GW graduates have “the tools and the power” to effect transformative change.
“Enter the fight. Fight for opportunities, for race, gender, gender identity, for the possibility of surviving in a world that is not stifled by climate change or bled to death by wars, ”she said .
“You took advantage of the opportunity that is offered to you. So now go into the fight to expand opportunities for someone else.
Senator Warren’s speech headlined a long-awaited in-person debut ceremony, the first for the GW community since 2019. GW is the only university that holds its graduation ceremony on the National Mall, but the tradition was cut short when COVID-19 pandemic forced ceremonies for Classes of 2020 and 2021 to move online.
The ceremony was an important part of the three-day event “Our Moment, Our Momentum: GW Centuries Celebration Weekend,” which marked the end of the university’s eight-month bicentennial celebration.
In her speech, Senator Warren noted that despite a series of global crises, she is encouraged by the passion and activism of GW graduates. “I am here today because my heart is full of hope,” she said. “I hope this rests in you.”
She remembers growing up in Oklahoma, where her father worked as a janitor and her mother answered the phone in a department store. With the ambition to be a teacher, she accepted a scholarship for GW, but left after two years. “GW was the first big door to open for me, and I loved it about GW, and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned here,” she said. “But I haven’t read the manual on what to do with that door open.”
She described eventually graduating and teaching special education in Texas. While acknowledging her accomplishments, Senator Warren stressed that she was keenly aware of the number of others who did not have the same opportunities. “I never forget that I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “For so many women, the doors remained closed and locked. These doors prevented women, people of color, the poor. Black and brunette women have faced a double dose of discrimination and disparity.
“The opportunity was a controlled access road available to those of the right color, gender and background,” she said.
Building on the failure of her own 2020 presidential campaign, Senator Warren implored graduates to risk setbacks and disappointments, but keep fighting for the causes they believe in.
“This is the time you have been called, a once in a lifetime chance to redefine opportunities in America. Now is the time to down payment on the America you will live in. Now is the time to chart the course for the generations. coming soon, ”she said.
Senator Warren also received an honorary doctorate of public service at the ceremony.
A start “Finally”
Acting Marshal Christopher Alan Bracey opened the ceremony by welcoming the graduates and their families and acknowledging the challenges and uncertainty they faced on the way to start in person. While many graduates have already looked to other projects, Professor Bracey called it a “rare privilege” to see so many people return to GW.
“We do not take this privilege lightly, and we are delighted to be here today to celebrate your graduation and all the ways you have already started to make the world a better place,” he said.
Board Chair Grace Speights, JD ’82 also acknowledged that graduates are making their marks as leaders in their lives and careers, while stressing that they will always be supported by a strong GW community.
“Leadership, especially during a time of increasing uncertainty, is a great responsibility, but you are not alone,” she said. “You have the support of your mentors, friends, families and, of course, our alumni community and the George Washington University Alumni Association. “
Ms Speights introduced GW President Thomas LeBlanc, who applauded the return of the ceremony in the National Mail— “Finally!” – while taking a photo of the crowd and congratulating the graduates on their resilience and accomplishments. Nodding at the bicentennial celebration, he noted that “GW has been a force for good for an incredible 200 years – a historic milestone that few universities accomplish and even fewer graduate students are a direct part of.
Dr. LeBlanc awarded the GW President’s Medal, the highest honor the university president can bestow, to three individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the university and the country’s response to the pandemic: Anthony Fauci , director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases; Cindy Liu, associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health who led the development of the university’s COVID-19 testing lab; and Andrew Maurano, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine who managed the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the DC community. Dr Fauci previously received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from GW in 2015.
Three graduates – Niku Nourmohammadi, Vivika Fernes and Anjalie Subramanian – helped Dr. LeBlanc present the medals.
Speaking from a distance, Dr Fauci addressed the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and called the return of the beginning celebration to the National Mall a “sign of progress, a decision of strength and a message of hope. “.
“I extend my sincere congratulations to the graduates of George Washington University who, despite extraordinary constraints and uncertainties, have persevered and are celebrated here today,” he said.
In his remarks, Dr Liu recounted his unlikely journey to the beginning stage, recalling his childhood in a polluted Taiwanese city. She noted that she had repeated grade 9 and had only learned English at the age of 13, but continued with her education and training despite “no leader like me. “.
She told the graduates, “It doesn’t matter that no one in your family has done it, no one from your hometown and no one who seems to have done it or even tried it. And it doesn’t matter if everyone says it’s impossible. When you find the greatest good that you can do, you do just that.
Dr Maurano accepted the medal, in part, “on behalf of the GW Emergency Medicine Department and the hundreds of men and women who have come forward every day to join me in [personal protective equipment], ready to face the next phase of this pandemic. “
He encouraged graduates to view the strangers of the world not with fear and frustration, but as an opportunity – to continually acquire new knowledge and “to listen to the fears, questions, frustrations and anger of others, but not with the intention of responding but with the intention of understanding. “
Christine Brown-Quinn, MBA ’92, President of the GW Alumni Association, asked the graduates to congratulate themselves on overcoming the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic. “You are amazing,” she told them. “I am impressed and humbled by what you have accomplished.” She also expressed her pride in counting them as “companions of our global family” to more than 300,000 alumni from 150 countries around the world.
“We are stronger together and the experience and perspective you bring makes us even stronger. As a community of alumni, we’ll always be there for you as you build your career – as you change careers – and navigate life, and we want you to stay active and engaged with us for years to come. come, ”she said.
A pair of classy speakers
The ceremony included two class speakers, one representing each of the graduating classes.
Former Classical Studies major SJ Matthews, BA ’20, spoke for the class of 2020 – “Better late than never,” she joked – when she recalled milestones like voting for the first time in the 2016 presidential election and join his classmates a few months later on January 2017 Women’s march. “We have seen divisions, yes, but we have also seen extraordinary examples of humanity and reaching out to others when they need it,” she said.
Ms Matthews, who currently works at Capitol Hill and is pursuing a Masters in Legislative Affairs at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, praised her fellow graduates for facing tough times giving back to their communities, from volunteering to frontline work. .
“You stood up for what is right, you stood up for those who were mistreated and you stood up for each other,” she said. “It is these choices that have defined your time as a GW student, and it is these choices that will define you as GW alumni for the rest of your life.”
Representing the 2021 class, Naseem Haamid, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and currently attends Columbia District University law school, shared a spoken word performance in honor of his classmates and graduates. . Entitled “Have We Reached the Top of the Mountain?” He understood these lines:
“I profess: our generation will continue to fight for progress
Achieving education is a step on the road to liberation
Prophetic words were said that the top of the mountain was seen
So let’s keep dreaming the biggest dream
Because one day we will get to the top of the mountain.
If we keep climbing.
Graduates Janis Nicholas and Damilola Arowolaju helped Dr. LeBlanc confer honorary degrees on Saturday. In addition to Senator Warren, Chairman Emeritus of the Board, Nelson Carbonell Jr., BS ’85, also received a Doctorate of Public Service. Entrepreneur and philanthropist who served on GW’s board of directors for 17 years, including six as chairman, Mr Carbonell said he revered the friendships that changed his life as an engineering student at Foggy Bottom .
“I hope you will continue to maintain the bond you have with GW,” he said, “to continue to be a part of this amazing, long-standing global community.”
Later, the classes of 2020 and 2021 finally realized their long-delayed moment as they stood on the mall to have their degrees recognized in person. Dr. LeBlanc saluted them for taking the next step in their educational journey.
“You deserved this moment,” he said. “I know you will continue to distinguish yourself, your communities and your alma mater. May you continue to carry your GW education and commitment to serving others and making a positive impact on our world with you every day. “