At this year’s Commencement, speaker and honorary degree recipient Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, testified to the power of education, which took her from a life as an uneducated girl in Sierra Leone to an elder whom her villagers look to for guidance. To the graduating class of 2014, she said, “I see each one of you as an agent of change, and now more than ever we are living in a world that needs your special talents and skills.” (Read entire speech here.)
As I congratulated the graduates, I saw many students who already have been agents of change on campus, many whose future success will be intertwined with the welfare of others.
Student speaker Codey Young told his peers, “We arrived here wondering how this college would change us, and we leave today contemplating the legacy we have imprinted upon Ursinus.”
Codey volunteered in the Dominican Republic for an organization dedicated to promoting awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS, and he spent his junior year abroad in Ghana interning at the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Center for Pan-African Culture. This year he went to China as an invited facilitator for the Lingnan University Teaching and Learning Initiative on General Education.
His experiences, he said, taught him to step outside of his own perspective “and understand the culture, politics, and history of other individuals and groups of people in the world.” As a Thomas J. Watson Fellow this coming year, he will explore black men’s use of artistic expression to create a sense of identity.
Our two senior Alumni Award winners, Zeba Hussaini and Gerald Gares, have been and no doubt will continue to be agents of change. Zeba was a double major in Biology and Applied Ethics, a major she designed after becoming a Fellow of the Center for Science and the Common Good. In the summer of 2011, Zeba volunteered in the clinics of impoverished neighborhoods in India. She will attend Jefferson Medical College.
Jerry made his mark as President of the Ursinus Student Government Association, spearheading new projects on campus. Of particular note was legislation requiring all organizations receiving student activity funds to do community service. A History major, he was also the student assistant coach for the baseball team, a campus safety dispatcher, and a Writing Fellow. He will be doing his student teaching this Fall in high school social studies.
The Ursinus experience had an impact on students like Danielle Miller, who received a Fulbright Scholarship which will enable her to do biomedical research in Barcelona. “The small and welcoming community of Ursinus College provided an environment in which I grew to know myself,” she said. “I was able to challenge myself constantly, and push myself to my limits. . . . With the strong support of professors, faculty, and staff, I left Ursinus knowing that my undergraduate degree is only the first of my feats.”
Travis Maider, a Chemistry major, student beekeeper, and musical theater performer, was selected to serve in the Peace Corps in Senegal, where he will work with West African people to develop sustainable farming techniques. “Although I lived on our suburban campus, I explored more of the world in my four years at Ursinus than any other time in my life,” he said. “I discovered new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, and most importantly, I saw that I could be a part of these ideas and visions.”
There are many graduates whose Ursinus experiences have prepared them for medical school, law school, and graduate studies. Some will be teaching abroad, such as Caroline Cannon, who is embarking for Lingnan University in Hong Kong where she will be coordinating and educating students and faculty about service learning opportunities. Others have elected to serve domestically, such as UC Green Fellow Megan Maccaroni, who is joining City Year Philadelphia.
Commencement Speaker Bangura said that her mother, a woman who could not read or write, taught her “the valuable lesson that education is not an end in itself, but when coupled with commitment, courage, integrity and humility it is a gift that allows you to make a difference in one person’s life, and this difference can affect a community and a nation.”
The root meaning of commencement is “a beginning.” Codey Young echoed this meaning in his address: “With jubilant spirits, we must realize that our education has only just begun; the real work of an Ursinus degree starts the moment the celebrations cease.”
We equip our students with the experiences they need to successfully go forward. I expect to hear from the Class of 2014 as they become agents of change, making not only a living, but also lives of purpose.
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