This piece was originally submitted as a speech for the Class of 2021's Commencement.
Welcome, fellow graduates, parents, faculty, friends and alumni, and the person here because they thought this was a free vaccine line. I see you.
As a member of the Band — yeah, those sickos who wake you up early every Parent’s Weekend — I’ve heard a lot of Brown school songs (and occasionally remembered how to play them). Our fight song, Ever True to Brown, is fitting for our class of 2021; we have worked through some of the most trying circumstances in modern memory. I congratulate the graduates, and especially those who could not be here for commencement. We miss you.
This has been a long road, full of hard work and struggle, but that struggle does not negate the joy we’ve felt along the way. Sure, we spent many late nights working on papers and problem sets, but we had Louis' to look forward to after our labors. More recently, the pandemic scattered us to every corner of the globe, but we came back together on Zoom. How else would we have seen our professors’ attention-seeking toddlers or lovable pets? The celebration of our commencement is for us, but we also have a number of people to thank for their help getting us here.
First, thank you to all the healthcare workers worldwide, and on our campus, who have sacrificed so much during the pandemic. The fact that we are able to celebrate together is a testament to your hard work.
To my fellow Brunonians, thank you for touching our lives in your own profound ways. From students who provide new perspectives; to faculty who challenge us; to bus drivers and food service workers who brighten our days, nights, and extremely early mornings; and of course, our parents for all their sacrifices and support. We would not be here today without all of your contributions.
Last but not least, to the graduates. We did it. We persevered through a tumultuous political climate, the trials and tribulations of the Housing Lottery, and even the COVID-19 crisis. Through it all, we have endured and succeeded. And most importantly, we did it together. No person is an island, and by collaborating on projects, homework, and memes, we have kept the Brown spirit alive. This shared spirit is at the heart of what makes us Brunonians. This same Brown ethos compelled many of us to participate in social justice causes, even during the pandemic. From Black Lives Matter to get-out-the-vote campaigns, we answered the call. Ever True.
Because of a typo in the University’s acceptance letter four years ago, we began our journey as “memebers” of the Class of 2021. But along the way, we became true Brunonians. Through hard work and play, together, we formed a shared community of lifelong friends and people we haven’t spoken to since Orientation. We’re all still a part of the same community, and each other’s Brown journey.
Last spring, our shared journey hit a huge hole in the road. I wish I could have written about something different. But I don’t think COVID-19 gave us that choice. I remember getting the email that Thursday morning in March of our junior spring, telling us that we would be evacuating Brown. I was stunned. I was going home, leaving my friends behind. So, like any well-adjusted adult, I threw my bed against the door, punched it in frustration, and then went out to play frisbee with my roommates on the Watson lawn. You know, “healthy coping mechanisms” and whatnot. We quickly packed up our things in our Barbour triple and said our goodbyes.
Last spring, our shared journey hit a huge hole in the road. I wish I could have written about something different. But I don’t think COVID-19 gave us that choice.
That was when our Ever True challenge began: maintaining the Brown community even when we could not see each other in person. We were asked to show resilience, and we did. Each and every student here today, virtually or in person, has demonstrated resilience and strength. Some international students woke up at 3 a.m. to attend class. Those of us returning to campus had to navigate the uncertainty of housing. Some of us handled difficult home situations, or took care of our loved ones, or fought to take care of ourselves. In doing so, we have shown resilience through a situation no one was ready for.
One way the Oxford Dictionary defines resilience is “the ability of a substance to return to its original shape after it has been bent, stretched, or pressed.” Our community was bent and stretched all over the world, and while we could not ever truly return to our original shape, through video calls, Blueno Bears Admirers posts, Among Us, Minecraft, Snackpass, and vast quantities of memes, as well as a splash of alcohol, we preserved our community. Ever True.
When we evacuated campus in March, straight into a global lockdown, everything moved too quickly to process at the time. The situation was overwhelming and heart-breaking. Only later, after returning home, could I fully process what I had left behind. I found that what I missed most were the little moments of joy that made Brown my home. I missed waking up to “Caution: Bus is Turning,” admiring our beloved Blueno, playing pick-up ping pong at midnight, or visiting the axolotl in the SciLi.
And of course, the people. Brown is special because of the students who attend it and the faculty and staff whose work makes it their second home. Each and every one of us has contributed a special spark to Brown that has changed this campus community for the better. The tireless advocates fighting for student wellbeing, student leaders making everyone feel included, arts groups reminding us of our shared humanity, student-athletes pushing themselves to represent Brown in sports, and professors challenging us to grow: Everyone has played a part in making Brown feel like home. Our shared community is our strength. Ever True.
Only later, after returning home, could I fully process what I had left behind. I found that what I missed most were the little moments of joy that made Brown my home. I missed waking up to “Caution: Bus is Turning,” admiring our beloved Blueno, playing pick-up ping pong at midnight, or visiting the axolotl in the SciLi.
Author Terry Pratchett once said, “Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” As we march through the Van Wickle Gates, we must acknowledge all of our progress, all of our shared struggles and triumphs. We are not the same nervous first-years who walked through these gates four years ago. Brown has prepared us to do literally whatever we put our minds to. We can go to the moon, head the Treasury Department, become titans of industry and safeguard the humanities and our democratic institutions, while keeping people hopeful through the darkest of times. And so we shall—together, Ever True.
We may scatter across the globe, but we remain a community. COVID-19 has shown us that we got this. And wherever we may go, or what we do, I know one thing: We will always be Ever True.