President Ajay Nair, Ph.D.
Arcadia University Undergraduate Commencement
Friday, May 18, 2018
Thank you Madam Chair.
Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, families, and of course, the amazing Class of 2018, welcome!
As some of you know, much of my scholarship focuses on race and ethnicity. As part of a project many years ago, I edited a volume on hip hop and its role in identity formation among Asian Americans.
A student who learned of my interest in hip hop asked me if I would consider rapping a portion of my welcome address.
To which I responded like any President would, I said, “I’m not an MC or a rapper, I’m a breakdancer.”
But unfortunately, the academic regalia makes it very difficult for me to show off my moves, so you’ll have to come back for reunion to see that.
Speaking of the limitations of regalia, you may have noticed that I’ve decided to break from tradition today, by accessorizing my presidential regalia with stoles from various communities at Arcadia as a reminder that we are a diverse community of many communities. Each of us has multiple identities and affinities, but we are all Arcadians, U KNIGHTED, by our desire to effect positive change in our community and the world.
It is my hope that at Arcadia, we will view tradition in a more nuanced way, recognizing that every community member belongs, and every community member can leave their footprint on our campus and the world.
But if we want that to be our reality, Class of 2018, we need you now more than ever before. I believe you are standing on the cusp of a tipping point, a pivotal one that historians will reference and future generations of students will read about.
Issues abound: healthcare, America’s workforce, our values, health and wellness, public safety, constitutional rights, demographics, debt, the environment, race, violence, income inequality, and technology--just to name a few.
Despite these challenges, you see the world in a different way than the generations before you.
You have arrived at this point because of the passion that exists inside you.
What you are passionate about may change over the course of your life, and you may find it surprising as to who you are ten, twenty, or thirty years from now--or even next year.
I would never have imagined a year ago that I would spend most of my time in a castle, right?
But each of you has a fire that drives you, that propels you to your goals. Take care, though, to ensure that your passions remain positive and welcoming, not attacking or close-minded.
Don’t starve it, feed it. Never diminish it, encourage it. Most of all, never ignore it, listen to it.
Class of 2018, your passions played out intensely at Arcadia. Your legacy is strong.
Each of you individually has contributed to this legacy, but more importantly, your legacy will lead to path of liberation for yourself, your peers, our community, and the world.
Your legacy is different than the generations before you, especially in the manner in which it is recorded. Nearly everything today has a record, a record that, in many cases, we ourselves have created.
My life, for example, is carefully curated online, probably much like yours, with perfect pictures of my family...with a castle in the background…
But in a much more real sense, it is defined more by our actions every day. In particular, it is defined by our interactions with one another. This is the record that matters, one in which I can say with confidence, that you have made us proud.
The Arcadia University Class of 2018 is a class dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and social justice.
Students, you “Broke the Silence” on campus by speaking openly about discrimination with faculty, staff, and peers. You hosted Arcadia’s first Lavender Ceremony, a celebration of our LGBTQ community; and you initiated student groups like Melanin in Action to combat racial injustice and support first-generation students.
You never hesitated to respond to those in need. Just ask Spackle.
If you don’t know about Spackle, he’s a dog that two students, one from the Class of 2018, met while on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Texas to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. The dog, displaced and homeless, wandered upon the group. When the students learned that Spackle would have to be put down without a home, they came back to Arcadia, worked the phones, found a no-kill shelter in Houston who would take Spackle, and they raised money to have him transported across the country here.
I know you are waiting for Spackle to make a surprise grand entrance right now, but he had other plans today.
While Spackle will get most of the spotlight here because he is so darn cute, it was the generosity and compassion of these students, who choose to reach out and assist communities in need during spring break, that made this possible. And this is just one of many stories that showcase your generosity.
The Class of 2018 stepped up...The Class of 2018 is woke..
You are also magnificent scholars.
You made presentations at national conferences on media studies, education, and illustration; you wrote award winning papers; you contributed to the political science and criminal justice fields; you earned high marks in competitions that showcased your math and science expertise.
Some of you investigated a 22-year-old cold case, helping a family reach closure. Others contributed to the beautification of Glenside, painting a mural that represents and celebrates our University community. They even allowed me to paint...under careful supervision.
The wide range of internships you completed is so impressive--from a Real Time Correspondent for the Philadelphia Phillies, to a costume designer for the Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls,” to an Injury Science Research intern at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to a research assistant who prepared reports for the United Nations’ Working Group….the diverse leadership experiences are astounding.
You also expanded your worldview through Arcadia’s international programs. The Class of 2018 includes a Fulbright semi-finalist, a Gilman scholar, and Vira Heinz Scholarship recipient--anyone not familiar with these names may not realize how prestigious these awards are.
But trust that these are a preeminent group of students, from across the country and around the world, that are invited to study and conduct research abroad that transforms the world around us.
Arcadia University Class of 2018, you will always hold a special place in my heart for how you have welcomed me into your community. I am so blessed to be here with you today. My only wish is that we had more time together while you were students. But here is the good news...This is just the beginning of your relationship with Arcadia.
As alumni, I hope we will stay in touch and work together to seek positive transformation in our community and the world.
There are many challenges facing human beings around the world, challenges that sometimes seem to multiply by the day. Indeed the world can, at times, feel a bit daunting. Yet, each graduating class that I see elicits in me an unbridled optimism about our future.
When I reflect on just how much you have accomplished here at Arcadia, it makes me dream about what you one day will do.
In conclusion, I know I said I wouldn’t be rapping, but you know I can’t resist...so help me out..don’t leave me hanging, I’ve got some Kanye for you.
Do you mind if I testify?
“Gotta testify, come up in the spot lookin extra fly
Fore the day I die, I’mma touch the sky”
Congrats Class of 2018, you are going to touch the sky!