To those who are graduating from Rhode Island College Saturday, congratulations on your incredible achievements. We live in unprecedented times, and the work you’ve strived to conquer proves your role in shaping our generation and the role it will play in the world to come. You may believe your degree to be the most powerful tool college has granted you, but I have always seen postsecondary education in a different light.
Colleges are bastions of diversity, forward thinking, opportunity and unfettered determination, and those values have helped shape me into the person I’ve become. Degrees represent the culmination of perseverance over the years in higher academia, but the greatest reward college provides us, and even mandates us to use, is our voices.
The world, since inching its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, has faced significant adversities. As the economy sputters while income inequality rises, we’ve seen in our country attacks on what we read, how we vote and how we express ourselves. Not only that, but a consistent malalignment of younger generations and their work ethic, perceived sensitivity and “wokeness” had been omnipresent in the modern discourse. What college has provided for us, beyond the technical skills to achieve our desired careers, is the ability to speak out against these prejudices and change our society for the better.
This can be done in innumerable ways, but none is more easy to manifest than by channeling the values of our college and carrying them with us everywhere. An essential part of RIC’s mission is to engage its students with curricula that will foster “intellectual curiosity and prepare an educated citizenry for responsible leadership,” and a vision to adapt to changing social and economic environments while impacting Rhode Island culture. These principles, when embodied fully and truly within us, will unmistakably shape Rhode Island and anywhere we go and chart a course towards ensuring a greater future for us and the generations that will follow.
Changing the world does not just end with mindsets, but actions to back them. We must use our voices to supplement our actions, to stand against injustice and fight actions and policies that will harm us, our friends, our family and the planet. Use social media as a tool of good, amplifying your voice to spread joy, but also determination. Volunteer for causes you believe in, and continue to forge interpersonal connections that will strengthen your community. Contact your representatives, rally for your rights and even run for office. Most importantly, carry the lessons learned from RIC with you like a badge of honor.
Finally, when you walk across the stage in your cap and gown, holding the degree that represents the arduous end of your educational journey, make sure you hold it in pride knowing the person you have become. You are not simply a graduate; you are the torchbearer of the generation that will lead the world for decades to come.