President Ajay Nair Commencement 2021 Address
Friday, May 21
Once again, welcome and congratulations!
You weren’t expecting to hear music from Lil’ Baby, were you? Let me explain:
One of your classmates, Maya, dm’d me and wrote: “Hi Prez Nair. I was just wondering if it’s too late to ask you to rap at our Commencement ceremony or come with a speech similar to the one you delivered for the Class of 2019. I think it would be a nice way to bring some light to our ceremony given the circumstances.”
Now, how many presidents get requests to rap at commencement? Only at Arcadia. I think it is a reflection of how connected we are as a community and one of the many reasons why I love Arcadia.
Lil Baby’s Bigger Picture, to me, is a perfect reflection of the Class of 2021, a song that inspires and ignites.
Through all the turmoil that you have experienced, you have taught us what resilience truly means. Class of 2021, you are an inspiration.
One of the positive elements of the past year has been the opportunity to see your brilliance in action; and as Lil Baby says--to see you make it count--to see the student become the teacher.
So let me flip the script on this important occasion and tell you the top three things that I have learned by watching you:
First, the struggles that we have endured have revealed that our relationships are critical. That friends, family, and community matter more than we ever could have imagined.
Based on our most recent experiences, we know that we must NEVER take for granted our ability to connect with one another in deep and meaningful ways.
I encourage you to listen and learn from those around you with an open heart and open mind--to be culturally humble.
As the world opens up again, I encourage you to cast an even wider net and connect deeply with new individuals and communities.
Education major India Knight is doing just that. India served as this year’s Honors Convocation student speaker, and is making the move from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to Bethel, Alaska -- population, six thousand -- to work as an elementary special education teacher.
In her Honors Convocation address, India talked about the power of presence -- seeing the bigger picture isn’t enough, you must be part of the picture. Wherever you go, whatever you are doing, know that and embrace it, she says.
Lil Baby reminds us that there are deep intersections among all of us, that our presence impacts others.
“Must not be breathing the air that I breathe
You know that the way that I bleed, you can bleed”
That the boundaries that society has constructed between us can and should be dismantled.
As Arcadians, we are counting on you to do this important work.
2020 has revealed that we are not immune from the problems of the world. We don’t live in a bubble.
As you know, we lost one of your classmates, Robert Anthony Wood III, tragically, to gun violence in Philadelphia.
Robert was not only an Arcadia student; he was also a Marine. He served his country and his community. Robert’s family is participating in the ceremonies today, and Robert is here through his family and friends who loved him.
We miss you Robert.
We have endured so much loss recently. We have shed so many tears. As you consider the bigger picture of the relationships that you nurture, please remember that every relationship matters, and every moment we have together should be cherished.
The second element of the bigger picture that I have learned from you is that while you can hope for stability, you must always be prepared for the unknown.
Arcadia has prepared you to be work ready, and life ready.
“You know when the storm goes away, then the sun shines
You gotta put your head in the game when it's crunch time”
Students like Mark Trejo, who is earning his degree in Accounting and is a proud representative of his hometown of Immokalee, Florida, has said how his father, who regretted not being able to attend college, instilled in him the importance of education.
He’s kept that drive since elementary school, and excelled there, in high school, and at Arcadia. Mark completed several internships and has accepted a full-time offer as an audit associate at one of the top firms in Naples, Florida. Mark’s legacy is certainly one where storms may come, but at crunch time, he can’t be stopped.
As Arcadians, your academic and social experiences have helped you develop the skills to see the bigger picture and to keep on going in the face of adversity.
Class of 2021, I know you kept your eyes on the prize--that’s how you landed here, in this moment, celebrating an amazing achievement.
This life lesson will serve you well. Throughout your life, you will be pulled in many different directions, but keeping a bigger picture in mind will allow you to keep making progress, even while remaining flexible in your thinking and actions.
And finally, you have shared with me that the bigger picture reminds us that we must radically reimagine the systems and thinking that continue to deepen the fault lines and inequalities in our nation and the world.
“ I’m telling my youngins to vote/ I did what I did ’cause I didn’t have any choice or hope, I was forced to just jump in and go/ This bs is all that we know, but it’s time for a change.”
The bigger picture is not just understanding the issues, but also developing solutions to the issues.
“it's time for a change
Got time to be serious, no time for games
We ain't takin' no more, let us go from them chains
God bless their souls, every one of their names”
Class of 2021, this is your calling.
Together, we can break the chains. We can remember the names. It’s time for change.
International Studies major Taylor Mailley will be making waves and serving the community through Americorps. Taylor knew that conservation was important to her when she came to Arcadia University—she took a gap year before joining our community, visiting 27 states and 11 national parks to understand the role conservation plays in the United States. For her thesis project, Taylor studied the concept of traditional wilderness and its impact on indigenous people.
Whether it is conservation, sustainability, anti-black racism, police brutality, civil rights, voting rights, health disparities, Lil Baby says it best:
It’s a problem with the whole way of life/ It can’t change overnight, but we gotta start somewhere/ Might as well get a ‘head start here.”
Indeed, Arcadia has given you a head start. Don’t waste it, but don’t cut in line either. Your knowledge belongs to you AND to the communities that you serve. Partner with them to build a better world. Your Arcadia degree is a superpower that has enabled you to see the bigger picture.
And always remember that we stand on some powerful shoulders in the Arcadia family.
Consider Phyllis Brody Taylor, a graduate of the Class of 1963; she has been working toward justice and equity for more than 60 years. As a student in 1961 and 1962, she organized Freedom Rides to join local Black civil rights groups in protesting at segregated diners.
This wound up getting Phyllis and the students in a bit of trouble. But in the words of the late U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, we should never be afraid to get into good trouble -- “necessary trouble, as he phrased it.”
Phyllis was bold, and she has continued to get into necessary trouble locally and around the world since her days as a student. I hope you will ask yourself what good and necessary trouble you will cause today and 60 years from now as Phyllis has done.
Arcadia has prepared you to venture beyond the familiar, the comfortable, the status quo. Through all the turmoil, you rose to action, you ignited your inner passion, you ignited our community, and you unleashed your great potential,
Class of 2021, you will transform the path of history as Arcadia graduates.
“It's bigger than black and white
It's a problem with the whole way of life
It can't change overnight
But we gotta start somewhere
Might as well start here
We had a hell of a year
I'm gonna make it count while I'm here”
Class of 2021, not only can you see the bigger picture, but in that picture: YOU are the Light, the radiant colors, the moment, and the composition. Class of 2021, You are a reflection of the world that we want to live in.
Lil Baby dropped some wisdom on us today, but I will share with you one thing that I hope you already know: We love you, Class of 2021.