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Remarks at the 2021 Commencement Ceremonies

Welcome, Ithaca College Class of 2021 and distinguished guests. I am absolutely elated to open the 126th Commencement at Ithaca College. Today is a celebration like no other, honoring the graduates of this amazing, fierce, brave class.

What a pleasure it is for all of us to be here, in this moment together, in this space, celebrating the major moment in your lives. I want to extend my deepest thanks to the many, many students, faculty and staff that have put all of their heart and soul into making sure that this production is so special and festive for all of you. Let’s give them a hand and a big thank you. To our families, faculty, staff and friends joining in virtually from afar, thank you for supporting our students and making this moment pure joy, pure pride and true IC love.

This class has walked through so much together. Today represents one major step in that walk together. The celebration of your diligence, your intellect and accomplishments, and your transition from student at IC to a graduate of our beloved institution.

This place and the time you spent here will be nothing less than shaping your lives in so many ways, that will be critical to your growth and most importantly, to your performance in the world. Your Ithaca College experience will be a touchstone and an anchoring force from now as you move forward into your lives, to realize your dreams with conviction within this community and beyond.

This class has walked through so much together, and today represents one more major step: the celebration of your diligence, intellect, and accomplishments, and your transition from student at Ithaca College, to graduate of Ithaca College.

I want to ask you to always remember the promise of this moment and what we’ve learned together as a country, as an institution, and as a world community of human beings. This has been extraordinary, and you’ve had many, as have I, “a-ha” moments that have advanced your scholarship, opened your mind, opened your hearts and your spirits and the community that you created and enriched. We are better, absolutely, because you walked with us every step of the way. Let the contents of these years inspire you and help you lead a life of purpose. That’s what I wish for you most, that you wake up every day regardless of what’s in front of you, feeling hope, responsibility, and yes, courage around living a purposeful life, and what does that means for you. This is at the heart of what Ithaca College really, truly means for so many.

As part of this Commencement, graduates have received a medallion to commemorate—and I see all of you wearing this beautiful medallion—to commemorate this moment and to connect as a class. On your medallion is a quote from the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and trailblazer.

The quote reads, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” It reminds us to value our shared humanity as we step forward as leaders into spaces that require courage and faith. And that if we disagree, if there’s tension ahead, if there’s fear, if there are unknowns, you lead with courage, but you ensure that others will follow you in community.

I am beyond pleased to introduce now the 2021 honorary degree recipients, whose work and lives embody the ethos of Justice Ginsburg’s words: Dr. Nadarajan Chetty and The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas.

Dr. Chetty is co-founder and director of the Opportunity Insights group and the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Dubbed “the most influential economist alive,” he has been a pioneer in the use of large-scale data sets to study questions of economic opportunity and inequality and the use of data to influence policy.

His keen research and inclusive, innovative thinking have been awarded with the MacArthur Fellowship and the John Bates Clark Medal. Dr. Chetty has been awarded the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is an impassioned priest, womanist theologian, and inspiring professor who serves as a tireless advocate for justice and dignity for every human being. We had the honor of welcoming her to our campus in 2019 as part of the Peggy Ryan Williams Difficult Dialogues Symposium.

She is the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union, the Bill and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology at the Union Theological Seminary, Canon Theologian in the Washington National Cathedral, and Theologian in Residence at Trinity Church Wall Street in the great city of New York. The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas has been awarded the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

I am honored to present the 2021 Presidential Medal recipient, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, a 1986 graduate of Ithaca College. This award was created to celebrate members of the IC family who demonstrate a strong sense of service and sustainability to benefit the greater good, and whose lives embody the values of Ithaca College to activate and change the world.

Speaker Filler-Corn, your fierce leadership, your bravery, and your heart captures the spirit of Ithaca College, and we are so proud to count you among our IC family. To commemorate this moment, the college is honored to give you this gift … with a medallion that is a replica of the one our Class of 2021 is receiving today. You made history a year ago as the first women in 400 years to serve as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, and it is so fitting that this year’s medallion has the words of Justice Ginsburg, another trailblazer.