Congratulations to the College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2020!
Read Interim Dean Max Paul Friedman's Remarks
Congratulations to our College of Arts and Sciences graduates for the entire year of 2020! Today we celebrate some 800 of you who graduated in the spring, summer, or fall, with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts. You have studied under outstanding faculty scholars and researchers—and in this very strange year with a world turned upside down, you have taught us so much.
You faced four interlocking crises in 2020: a global pandemic that put you and your families at terrible risk; an economic crash that upended career goals, threw some of you and your parents out of work; and then, this summer, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other of our Black fellow citizens, which triggered a national reckoning with America’s long history of systemic racism. And all of this while the world seemed to burn with the urgency of the climate crisis. Together, while a once-in-a-century pandemic raged, and we lost the precious ability to come together face to face, the AU community made a resolute recommitment to racial and social justice and equity, and to reinvent how we teach, and how we learn.
In the midst of all that, you continued your studies with grace and a can-do spirit. When AU went fully online, when it seemed like we might all collapse from Zoom fatigue, you rose to the challenge. You recreated community online—in your classes, lab work, fieldwork, performances, and research. And, by helping one another through this time of isolation and loss. You were a constant amazement and inspiration to your faculty and AU administration. You kept us going.
In spite of all these challenges, this has been a year of great accomplishment for our College students. And so it is a pleasure to engage in a little “20/20” hindsight.
A lucky few of you were able to study and learn in the brand new Hall of Science. We hope those numbers increase in the spring semester, as they definitely will further into 2021. AU’s goal is for the Hall of Science to take its place in the DC region, alongside the Don Myers Technology and Innovation building, as a sun-drenched center of collaborative, cutting-edge research.
AU’s commitment to research in all fields is evident in the Class of 2020. One of you worked with the Office of Science and Technology Policy to assess the threat that solar storms pose to the US power grid. Another developed statistical models for estimating the risk of injury among manufacturing workers. Still another wrote an award-winning dissertation on the display of fashion in the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
During your years here, you had internships and engaged in research projects at the World Bank, Smithsonian Institution, Arena Stage, National Institutes of Health, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and other leading organizations.
As if we needed more evidence that public service is in American University’s DNA: during the COVID-19 crisis, several of you delivered food and educational resources to teachers and students in the DC Public Schools and to day laborers idled in parking lots.
It may seem like another lifetime now, but during your years here, you were actively engaged in the arts—traveling with the Chamber Singers to Poland and Greece or curating the AU Museum’s very first exhibition of art donated to AU by the former Corcoran Gallery of Art. This past semester, you wrote, directed and participated in moving virtual performances that were remote in only the technological sense. You touched me, and us, with your passion and empathy, and your willingness to reveal your vulnerability. Not to mention your determination to find a way around technical challenges that simply shut down the performing arts elsewhere!
Among your fellow members of the Class of 2020 are winners in the Fulbright, Boren, Hollings, Goldwater, Gilman, Killam, NSF Graduate, and Critical Language Scholarship competitions.
Many of you graduating today have finished master’s theses or capstone projects. And 25 of you reached the summit of arguably the most difficult undertaking in academic education: researching, writing, and defending your doctoral dissertations!
All that shows not only your resilience but your ability to flourish against tremendous odds. And that’s what 2020 has been—a year of survival, embracing challenges and thriving despite them. Or maybe because of them? Whichever it was for you, your families and friends, you have made us proud. On behalf of every member of the College of Arts and Sciences and AU community, my deepest congratulations to you. I look forward to seeing where life takes you.
And now I’d like to introduce you to our two exceptional student speakers for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Our undergraduate speaker is Riham Amin, who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (with a 3.81 GPA), and a minor in International Studies. Riham has been an enduring presence on the Dean’s List during her years here at AU, while actively participating in the political process. This year, as a campaign field organizer, she organized and executed virtual and in-person volunteer and community engagement events for freshman Democratic Congressman Andy Kim. He was running for re-election in a conservative leaning district—the New Jersey 3rd. He won. She had previously served as the Congressman’s legislative aide and has just been offered a job in Congressman Kim’s district office in New Jersey!
Our graduate speaker is Tara Schultz, who graduated Summa Cum Laude in May of this year with a Master of Arts in Arts Management. She was also a Senior Graduate Fellow in the AU Dance Program, where she scheduled and coordinated dance performances, projects, and other events.
During her time at AU, she was on the executive committee of the nationwide Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium, as the Director of Marketing and Communications. She completed her Master’s Thesis on Nonprofit Executive Transitions, and now works with a DC-based consulting firm on executive search and governance projects for area nonprofits. For the past year and a half, Tara has also worked as a project associate for Good Insight Consulting Services, drafting branding and website content.
BA Sociology, Minor International Studies
Good afternoon, and congratulations fellow graduates! Thank you to the faculty, deans, and president. I could not be prouder in sharing this moment with you all. I’ll be honest. This isn’t how I thought I’d be addressing my graduating class. But if the hardships of this year have proven anything, it’s that we are here, despite the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, because we are resilient. So, I’d like to take this moment to reflect on what got us here, and what I hope will keep us going.
When we first arrived on campus, fresh from being “pleasures to have in class,” I don’t think anyone was able to predict exactly how the next few years would turn out. Whether that means having switched majors, finding hidden passions, or having a harder time adjusting than you thought you’d have. Like many of my peers, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all three. And of course, it goes without saying that the Class of 2020 did not expect to finish our undergraduate education amidst a global pandemic. The ongoing pandemic not only shook our current world, but it left us uncertain of the futures we’ve worked so hard for. The reality of COVID-19 has meant that many of us have had to slow down, pause, and map out new paths. Many of us have families and communities touched by loss and filled with uncertainty.
I won’t claim that anything we’ve faced in the past has prepared us for exactly this. Or for the climate crisis that we face. That doesn’t mean we can’t draw upon our past hurdles to remind ourselves that seemingly insurmountable struggles can sometimes lead to pathways we didn’t know to look for. It wasn’t the straightforward four-year path I imagined as a freshman that got me here. I’m here because of the paths that revealed themselves as I stumbled, tripped, and at times crawled my way through an unexpected five years to get here.
This time two years ago, I was drafting a letter to my academic advisor trying to find the words to explain that I had most likely reached the incomplete end of my education. That I had made too many wrong turns, and I was sure I’d never reach this destination.
Fortunately, I never hit send. I learned—as I suspect many of you have learned—that there is grace in accepting that things went wrong, and strength in moving forward, even when it seems impossible. I learned that stumbling does not equate to failure. In fact, it can be the very cornerstones of our best achievements. Most importantly, I learned that success is not linear.
So, when you look back at the journey that led you here, I hope you don’t discount the times you stumbled or fell. I hope you honor the moments you got back up. We are better for the challenges we faced, however daunting they were at the time.
And I must say, while I found personal strength in stumbling, it was the support of others that helped me regain balance. Our success has depended upon the support we’ve received from faculty and staff—most especially our advisors. And in many ways, it is the culmination of years of care and support from our friends, families, and communities, and their hopes for us. In celebrating our journey thus far today, we celebrate those who helped us along the way.
As we graduate, I know we will bring the fiercely compassionate Eagle spirit to our lives as we brought it to our educations. The Class of 2020 is already unlike any other. We did not let fear of uncertainty keep us from reaching our goal. When the last leg of this particular journey faced a seemingly impossible obstacle, we each made the decision to be open to new paths.
Let’s bring these lessons with us as we transition on to new journeys. Let’s be bold in the face of the unimaginable. Let’s accept the support of our loved ones and give back in turn. Let’s take this next step together with kindness, gratitude, and resilience.
Thank you, and once again, congratulations.
MA Arts Management
Hello everyone. The original version of this speech, which I wrote in January, began with a joke about crowded gymnasiums. I think most of us would agree that the idea of a crowded gymnasium now seems refreshing, and that’s an adjective we never thought we would use to describe a gymnasium.
Anyone graduating from AU today should (by now) know what a Wonk is. I'll admit that when I first started classes, it took me several months to understand the cryptic messages on the sides of the AU shuttle buses, and the mysteriously headless profiles they accompanied. “Are we Eagles or are we Wonks?”
When you Google “Wonk,” which of course I did, the search engine says "Noun. Informal. Derogatory (?). A studious or hardworking person." Below that Merriam Webster provides "Broadly: Nerd."
Today, I do feel like a Wonk. I moved to Washington, DC, from the middle of nowhere, and now the word "Smithsonian" is on my resume. I've had the honor of serving on the executive committee of a student-run organization that hosts a symposium for arts leaders from across the nation, and I’ve taken classes on topics I didn’t previously know existed. We completed our degrees during a global pandemic, and there are two new letters we can put behind our names.
American University gave us these opportunities. But more importantly, it was at this institution that we became fully aware of everything we don't know. All the curious things in this world that we haven't explored. All of the knowledge we haven’t acquired.
And this is the cornerstone of being a Wonk. Knowing it all, including the fact that you don't know everything, and wanting to know more. Being a Wonk means you are continually searching for knowledge, and you understand that education doesn’t end here at commencement.
American University Wonks know that this is just the beginning, because we’re going to be nerds for many years to come. My father always said that “school is about learning how to learn,” and he was right. 2020 has reshaped how we learn, and we now know more about the Zoom platform than we ever thought we’d have to. But our experiences here, both before and since last March, taught us the best ways to gather knowledge, the best ways to exist in the world. Now it’s time to leave with what we’ve learned and go learn more.
I am a Wonk. You are a Wonk. And together, we have a lifetime of learning ahead of us.