Thank you, Dean Hazlett, for your kind introduction. Thank you, President Altmann, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, families, friends, and my fellow classmates. I am so humbled and honored to speak to you today.
Members of the Class of 2022, we are unique—our Commencement is the first to be held in person and on campus in three years! We celebrate our achievement together in the Alumni Sports and Fitness Center, the same place we attended opening Convocation when we first came to Franklin & Marshall. We are sitting with people we were sitting with four years ago, experiencing the same excitement and anticipation about the future we did then.
It may appear that we are ending our time at F&M at the same place we began. However, we all know everything we have overcome—the uncertainty, pain, loss, helplessness, and fear—just to reach this familiar place again.
When we stepped foot on this beautiful campus, none of us could expect that a pandemic would shatter our plans, separate us from each other, and throw our future into unprecedented uncertainty. As an international student from China, little did I know that pursuing an undergraduate degree in the United States would mean such a long separation from my family. I have not been home for 850 days. Since December 2019, as every winter and summer break approached, I hoped that I could go home. Yet every time, I was disappointed.
Forced to change my plans, I used that time to take classes, to do research, to browse through graduate school programs to figure out my true interests. Thanks to those experiences and the numerous conversations I have had with my professors, I became even more determined to pursue a doctorate, specifically in chemical biology, an area of study I hadn’t even heard of before the pandemic started.
I am sure that each of my classmates here has a similar story about how the pandemic has changed your life. For some of us, that study-abroad opportunity we had dreamed of was canceled. For some of us, that internship we had worked so hard for and finally been accepted to had disappeared. For some of us, the routine we followed for years was disrupted because we had to take classes remotely, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. in our bedroom or basement.
Our time at F&M was filled with difficulties, but we were not defeated by them. During this challenging time, we demonstrated unmatched tenacity and adaptability. We reached out to more people for help and we thought hard about solutions to problems. We searched for new opportunities and we created alternatives for ourselves.
As a result, we decided to take chances. Some of us took classes we’ve never thought about taking before. Despite the stress of going through the application process again, some of us secured new jobs or new internships. Some of us started our own research projects, community service campaigns or nonprofit organizations to make an impact on the world in our own way.
Of course, none of this could have happened without the constant support of people in the Franklin & Marshall community. And so today, we say thank you—to the friends willing to stay on Zoom for hours to hear us talk about our pain and offer us comfort; to the advisers who never turned down our meeting request no matter how busy they were; to the alumni who created hybrid and virtual internship opportunities to help us gain experience despite all the difficulties; to the faculty and staff who worked so hard to improve our online learning experience; and to the hundreds of people at F&M responsible for making our Commencement enjoyable, meaningful and safe—and livestreamed so my family could watch me graduate from halfway around the world.
We, the graduating class, have learned that there are so many people by our side in this difficult journey. The pandemic brought us tremendous loss, but it also bonded us closer together, and this strong network is going to be a lifelong source of support no matter where we go.
When I was little, I used to hope for the superpower of being able to see into the future. What I’ve learned here at F&M is that an even better superpower is the ability to respond to whatever things—good or bad—come your way in that future. Class of 2022, your optimism, resilience, and creativity have convinced me that you will be able to overcome whatever difficult circumstances you may face. I am proud to call you my classmates, and I can’t wait to see how you will shine in the next leg of your journey. Congratulations!