June 11, 2020
Good evening and welcome everyone. This is always a proud moment for the Drexel community. I know I speak for our entire community in congratulating the great class of 2020 … and in welcoming your family and friends joining us today.
Just a few years ago, we made history by holding Drexel's first university-wide Commencement in decades. The venue was Citizens Bank Park — the Phillies’ home field. That’s where we'd be gathering tonight under normal circumstances. But normal has become a rare commodity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So. Tonight. we're making history again with our first ever virtual graduation celebration. I'd like to thank the many people whose expertise and hard work have made this possible.
But I confess to having some reservations about the word "virtual". In the digital world especially, virtual means a synthesized or simulated reality. But there is nothing synthesized about the hard work and discipline you all have invested in earning the degrees we celebrate tonight. There is nothing simulated about the pride felt by your parents, friends and family. And there is certainly nothing synthesized about the gratitude I feel for the way the Class of 2020, along with all of our students, faculty and professional staff, responded to the COVID-19 challenge.
Making the sudden switch to remote learning for the last mile of your academic journey was a significant –and I know painful — adjustment. While I'm gratified at how well you've handled this challenge, I am not surprised. When Drexel is confronted with big challenges, we don't throw up our hands. We roll up our sleeves to look for solutions. Your appetite for challenges as students — and now, as graduates — will be a priceless asset in the years ahead. Because as serious as the pandemic challenge is in itself, it spotlights even greater challenges.
The impact of the coronavirus on the United States has been intensified by the inconsistency of our health care system and the legacy of institutional racism that has disproportionately burdened the African American community and other communities of color. Our national response to the coronavirus has been hampered by the vitriolic nature of our political system and a distressing lack of respect for science.
Even as we work toward reopening our country and rebuilding the economy, we have been swept up in the anger and protest sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. These protests surely can’t surprise, but they have — finally — led to the painful recognition that our country has too long ignored the ample evidence before it: The virus of institutionalized racism still infects American society. And this virus won't be eliminated by a new vaccine.
That’s where you come in. The history of racism in this country, which eats at our democracy and undermines our national talents, will only be cured though the collective resolve of all Americans to change both individual and institutional behavior. Getting us to that place will require honesty, leadership and commitment from your generation.
As so often happens in history, you have inherited a problem you had no hand in creating — but which you must and will take the lead in solving. My confidence in saying that reflects my confidence in this graduating class.
It has been said, wisely, that the success of our society and our democracy rests upon on our willingness to think of each other, and not only ourselves. My hope and expectation is that you will embrace this principle … That you will step up in your communities … That you will take on the solemn responsibility of leadership.
You are uniquely qualified to take on this special role. Your academic achievements have been combined with the tradition of civic engagement that goes to the heart of Drexel's identity — a tradition so many of you have embraced directly.
Mark Twain advised that the secret to getting ahead is getting started. Your years at Drexel have already gotten you started — with experience in your chosen professional fields and experience in being active citizens of the world.
These are uncertain times in many ways. But I feel so much more confident about our future — simply by knowing that you, our graduates, will be part of it.
Congratulations, and good luck.