Thank you, Chancellor-Provost Conway, for sharing in this wonderful moment with our school. It is an honor and pleasure having you here and hearing your words of welcome and best wishes to our graduating students and their friends and families.
Now, Dr. Conway and I have been together for a number of graduation festivities over the past couple weeks. Part of the wonderful complexity that is Rutgers is the opportunity to celebrate our students’ accomplishments in their various communities of support and learning. So, we’ve now seen some of you at Rites of Passage, Douglass Residential College Convocation, the Honors College celebration, and of course the big graduation event at SHI stadium.
But we save the BEST for last, and I am truly, truly honored to acknowledge our School of Environmental and Biological Sciences graduates TODAY. And I want to thank YOU – graduates – for allowing us this privilege to celebrate all you have done! I look over this group today, and it is not only beautiful, talented, and smart – it is courageous, tenacious, ambitious, conscientious, and downright amazing.
Now I am just going to say it – we’d all rather be at Passion Puddle to celebrate today. And even though we have world renowned meteorologists on our faculty, even they couldn’t change the predicted weather forecast when the call was made on Friday.
So, though disappointing, we pivot, we adjust, we focus on what is important – our graduates and their families. And, we make lemonade. Parking is easier, it is much easier to walk the aisle here in those fabulous heels some of you are wearing, and we can make a lot of noise in this stadium – LETS HEAR IT!!!
Remember Passion Puddle is a state of mind! It is imprinted in your experience at Rutgers and will always be a place for you to return to!
Spring, with all its unpredictability – is a time of renewal, of delight in seeing plants emerge and grow, a time of rebirth and promise. Regardless of the weather, there is an optimism to Spring that aligns with what brings us all together today. For this is a season of celebration – this Spring 2022. It is a busy time and an opportunity to acknowledge the wonder of all you have accomplished and all you aspire to become.
At SEBS, our spring celebration starts with Ag Field Day – a time-honored tradition of sharing all we do with thousands of visitors who come to walk the Puddle, buy plants, pet baby goats, admire very well-behaved (and some so not-well behaved) dogs, and generally shake off the winter.
Spring is also time for George H. Cook Thesis presentations, when our 69 amazing scholars wowed us with their research.
And, of course, last Friday evening was our Baccalaureate celebration, when students receive awards from their departments, and Alpha Zeta – the national collegiate honor and service society for agriculture. This year’s candlelight walk around the puddle was shrouded in a misty fog – very ethereal – and followed by celebratory champagne toasts and well wishes.
The pinnacle of celebration is, of course, the SEBS Convocation. To help clarify what this tradition is about, a Convocation is defined as “a formal gathering of people.” Now, most of you students know that our side of campus is not what one would call formal – we have puppies in our classrooms, after all! And our students work shoulder-to-shoulder (sorry, socially distanced!) with faculty in their labs and on boats, at farms, gardens, greenhouses, and over studio desks.
However, today’s Convocation allows a pause from our busy everyday informal interactions so that we can focus on all that our seniors have accomplished. We don our robes, hear speeches, walk the stage, call names, receive awards and diplomas, wear our hands out clapping, our voices out cheering – and it is all because we are so proud of you! So pause we will – and just look at you all! You are an amazing sight.
Convocation is also an opportunity to acknowledge the many people who have helped our seniors achieve their degrees. Parents, siblings, family, friends – we know you have been the bedrock upon which our students established their roots. Students, let’s give a BIG cheer to your support teams!
Let’s also applaud our faculty and staff for their role in teaching and inspiring this generation of graduates. Let’s go ahead and do that now. Faculty, please stand.
And while you are standing, faculty, please join me in acknowledging this amazing class.
Even though we got used to seeing only half your face due to all our masking protocols, we know you for all you’ve accomplished in your courses and activities. And we celebrate all you have become and are becoming, our newest Rutgers Alumni!
Our spring celebrations also include receiving a red oak sapling from our Cook Community Alumni Association, grown from acorns like the ones that Dean Richardson mentioned at your first-year induction as a metaphor for your growth in college – and that you occasionally trip on as you run to catch the bus on Red Oak Lane. We hope you plant the tree, nurture it, and watch it grow so that you will always be reminded of your time on Cook Campus.
And please send us pictures of your trees and we’ll share them… let’s see all the places they thrive, just like you!
This convocation address would not be complete without some words of wisdom sprinkled out like the rain that was predicted. Now at SEBS, we believe in experiential learning – learning by doing. And to quote philosopher and educator John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Persevering through the past two years to get to this day, we’ve learned that attention to our physical health and emotional wellness is as vital to our ability to learn as textbooks and access to experts.
We’ve learned about mutual responsibility to assure health and safety – public health had never been so front in everyone’s mind.
We’ve learned and are learning what it means and what it will take to be inclusive, to confront inequity, and to work toward justice.
And when we came back to campus, we saw with fresh eyes the value of community, that our 3-D selves, when released from the Zoom box, are even more amazing as resources to build each other up, to care for each other, and to learn from each other. As we sit here today, look around and appreciate all the good that surrounds you that should never be taken for granted.
Yes, we’ve learned to pivot, we’ve learned to adjust, and we’ve also learned what is valuable. And it is this that bolsters you for the next unexpected moment, the next adjustment, the next opportunity, and your pursuit of your dreams.
Keep these memories, these priorities, these supports with you to support you during those challenging times that are inevitable but don’t have to be overwhelming. Look what you – collectively – have done, and know that you are all built of some strong stuff that will continue to strengthen as you nourish yourself and each other.
And now I will end, with my sincere thanks to all of you:
Thank you, parents, friends, and supporters of our students. Without you, this day is not possible.
Thank you, Class of 2022, for your maturity and strength of character, and your resiliency. You are truly inspirational!
Thank you, faculty, staff, alumni, and volunteers for keeping this tradition alive and being here to support our students.
I’m humbled and privileged to be your Dean.
My hearty congratulations and best wishes to you, Class of 2022!