Congratulations, VCU Class of 2020!

VCU celebrated the many accomplishments of the Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony this weekend. It’s an honor to welcome over 2,700 graduates to the VCU Alumni family. Below, is my speech to VCU Class of 2020. GO RAMS!

Good morning. VCU Family, I’m delighted to be your head cheerleader in celebrating your graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University! You’ve reached a really important point in your lives and I know you all feel a deep sense of accomplishment. This year presented us all with great challenges—and all of you persevered. We’re really proud of you.

You instill a strong sense of pride in our university and you’re exactly what the world needs now. I’m so proud of the depth of your empathy, your work across fields to improve plans that will create an inclusive, equitable world where everyone will succeed. You’re the class that will go out into the world and make this happen because you’re the leaders of a generation of learners with an expansive vision of how our world should be: A place that recognizes the potential in everybody.

The world needs your leadership. We need teachers dedicated to the highest quality learning; healers who will provide the very best care to all human beings; and people with creativity who will add beauty to our world while also provoking needed thought and dialogue about the human experience.

It was Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning-author Toni Morrison who said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

That’s the VCU story…it’s your story. You already use your power to help others … and there are many examples. And you are about to change the world and make it a better place for human beings.

I’ve watched you foster civic engagement in our communities. You empowered your peers and neighbors through education, and created lifelong learners invested in the well-being of their communities and our nation.

As students, you worked to address the prescription drug and opiate abuse epidemic that denies so many the opportunity to realize their self-worth. By hosting drug disposal and preventative education events, you’ve saved lives and created opportunities for many people—many who would not have had them without you. There is every reason to believe that the success you’ve seen here will be even more as you go forward.

Scientists link creativity with brain function and the ability to endure difficult times. More than ever, we need the performing and visual arts. Your creativity and innovation have helped you adapt in-person theatrical performances to virtual for in-home viewing this fall. You’ve been and will continue to be amazing.

And, of course, we’re all facing one of the defining challenges of our time with determination.

I’m proud of your hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives are being saved because of your volunteer work with local and state agencies to trace disease transmission. You’ve also exhibited great care for your fellow Rams, loved ones and community through personal preventative measures as well—THANK YOU!  You’ve made the VCU story through this pandemic nothing short of profound.

You’ve worked hard to make VCU a premier national public research university with an academic medical center dedicated to access. Your advocacy for our fellow human beings and your assistance with the creation of living, learning and community spaces that are accessible and welcoming make it possible for us to serve all who come to VCU. And, I’m grateful to you for passing the baton to your classmates. They will do an exemplary job upholding VCU’s mission as a 21st century university dedicated to advancing the human experience everywhere a Ram can reach.

You’re graduating from VCU during an important time in our history. You’re part of the history of our university, the city and the commonwealth. Your history is just beginning…and you will be successful in life and also while empowering humanity.

Congratulations, VCU Class of 2020! We’re really proud of you and look forward to your great success. Stay in touch. You are forever a part of your alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University!

View graphic versionView graphic version