Thank you, Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway, for sharing this wonderful moment with our school. It is an honor to once again have you celebrate with us. Thank you for your words of welcome and best wishes to our graduating students, and to their families and friends.
I’ve had the privilege of joining Dr. Conway and several other deans at various graduation festivities over the past couple of weeks. This is the Rutgers way – celebrating our students’ accomplishments in their various communities of support and learning.
Today, it’s our turn at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences to honor our amazing graduates. I know it’s towards the end of the celebrations, but as the saying goes, “we save the best for last.”
Thank you, graduates, for allowing us this privilege to celebrate all you have done! To express the pride that we feel in your amazing accomplishments!
And thank you to the friends, family, faculty, staff, and supporters who are here for this celebration.
It is wonderful to be at Passion Puddle today. For many of us, the Puddle is the symbolic heart of our community.
Graduating seniors, think about the first time you walked around the Puddle and how many times you have circumnavigated it as you went to class or ran for the bus.
My office is right up there, so I enjoy the spectacle when spring hits: out come the frisbees and footballs, the groups of students ‘studying’ on their beach towels, and of course the playful puppies that capture everyone’s attention.
And here you are today, this very proud moment for our community, so appropriately placed here in our heart.
The Puddle may be our heart, but it is the people who make our community so strong. It is the students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and family who share our physical campus, our shared interest in learning, and our shared compassion for each other.
Many of you first came to SEBS in 2019, fresh out of high school. Some maybe came a bit earlier and did some exploring, some of you maybe later as transfer and returning students.
Quite a number of you have Jersey roots, while others were new to the Garden State when you first came to Rutgers. A growing number of you came as international students. How ever you came to SEBS and Rutgers, and whether you lived on campus or commuted, you joined a vibrant COMMUNITY.
Now, the word ‘community’ is rooted in the Latin words, communitas, which is, in turn, derived from communis, meaning “common, public, shared by all or many.” (And you thought Latin was just good for plant genus and species!)
For our school, our shared purpose is captured in our Vision Statement: “A Healthy and Sustainable Future That Balances the Wellbeing of ALL Living Organisms with the Health of the Earth.”
That’s a broad vision, for sure, and why is it important? Our Vision Statement goes on to say:
“The existential challenges of our time, including climate change, mass extinction, resource sustainability, food security, human population growth, and social and environmental injustices are profoundly affecting the future of the earth and its inhabitants.”
These challenges are daunting, and yet there is no escaping the urgency to address them. And what pulls our community together is that these pressing concerns – mitigating climate change, enabling people to live healthy lives, addressing environmental inequities, to name a few – each one cuts across multiple disciplines reflected in our school and across Rutgers.
As a school that encompasses disciplines from nutrition to plant science, from environmental business economics to landscape architecture, and much more, we have an arsenal of theoretical underpinnings, methods and tools, and results and outreach to confront these critical concerns.
We may work with people, plants, animals, insects, genes, cells, charts, diagrams, drawings, probabilities – and many units and measures I don’t know – but we share a common drive to gain new knowledge and communicate it so that science helps inform solutions to the vexing problems of our time and the future.
And as a community, we’re stronger together. While Passion Puddle is our heart, the blood that courses through us is our shared conviction that this work matters – that we are driven to understand and solve these critical problems and we need to work together on many fronts to make the future a safer and brighter place, for your generation and those to come.
Ultimately, we push forward with our belief that our BROAD curriculum, BIG ideas, and BROAD-BASED approaches to addressing many of the major challenges we face on the planet, are the reasons why YOU chose to be part of the SEBS community.
And, having chosen SEBS, you dedicated your time here to gaining knowledge and tools to prepare yourself to take on these challenges and make a difference. You have a Rutgers education, which rests on a foundation of intellectual curiosity, experiential learning, diversity, and giving back.
And we know we’re succeeding in the task of preparing you for a productive future when we see the largest number of Summa Cum Laude graduates – 111 or 15 percent of the SEBS Class of 2023!
And we know we’re succeeding in that task by the growing number of students taking advantage of internships, independent research with faculty, George H. Cook honors’ theses, international programs, and community engagement projects. These signature programs complement what you learned in the classroom and give many of you a running start on your post-graduation careers.
And, lastly, we know we’re succeeding because of how much you, graduates, have taught us: your faculty, administrators, and advisors.
Something I have said to every potential candidate for a faculty position at SEBS is that our Rutgers students are the best – they are here for a purpose, they challenge you with new ideas and approaches, and they keep you on your toes.
To solve the complex issues of today requires many people at the table engaged in creative thinking. Solutions aren’t going to come from what your professors learned 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. We all know that we have to keep learning our whole lives. We’re grateful to our students for bringing fresh eyes and perspective to help us all learn and grow. You make us all think differently, as well. Thank you for giving back to your community by being present, being curious, and being tenacious.
Usually in graduation remarks, we also mention all the challenges and hurdles overcome. Well, this class has had some significant ones. We know that a lot can happen in two to four years. Health, family, financial troubles don’t go away as concerns when you are studying.
A semester may start out strong, but then we hit a bump in the road, and suddenly that planned schedule flies out the window. When is the add/drop deadline? Can I really double major? Can I catch up in summer?
These are times when your support team has been there for you to listen, provide advice, and put things in perspective. Walking across campus, it is common to hear someone being soothed on the phone after a stressful experience (don’t worry, I’m not eavesdropping). And when you needed questions answered and a new plan of action, our advisors in Academic Programs, EOF, academic departments, and the counsellors in CAPS, were at the ready. Let’s take this opportunity to thank them all!
And of course, the monumental, world-shaking change in your life, all our lives, in fact, that came our way in Spring 2020. For many of you, it was just your second semester at Rutgers (did I do the math right?), when the truly ‘unexpected’ happened.
So much of what we take for granted as the traditional college experience came to a halt, but you powered through. And without dwelling in that crazy time, let’s just all say that we have learned about multi-tasking during a zoom meeting, balancing in-person with remote, taking stock of our health before infecting others, and appreciating the emotional toll our crazy world has on us, even as we double down to improve it. (You have the degrees to prove that!)
If there is one thing I’ve learned from this process, it is that community does not quit on you. We got through this together and it has shaped this graduating class in ways that are profoundly deep and impactful in whatever you decide to do in this next phase of your life.
You’ve established strong roots here at SEBS. Come back to campus, continue and strengthen our community. We’ll want you back to talk to future students. We can’t wait to see you for Ag Field Day/Rutgers Day.
And don’t forget to keep that Block R on your vehicle. We want everyone to see your pride, whether on the New Jersey Turnpike, the 405 freeway in LA, the National Highway 44 in India, the Provincial Highway 9 in Taipei, or wherever life takes you.
This community is forever! As newly minted alumni, I hope you continue to forge connections and stay connected.
I 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, faculty, staff, alumni, and volunteers for keeping this tradition of Convocation alive and being here to support our students.
And most of all, Thank you, Class of 2023, for your maturity and strength of character, and your resiliency. You are truly inspirational!
I’m truly humbled and privileged to be your Dean.
Once again, my hearty congratulations and best wishes to you, SEBS Class of 2023!