Professor Sarah Wagner said graduates should spend their careers giving “gifts of compassion” at a Columbian College of Arts and Science undergraduate graduation celebration Saturday.
Wagner, a faculty speaker and a professor of anthropology, said graduates should regard their survival of the COVID-19 pandemic as a crucial gift given how they overcame pandemic-related isolation throughout the past two years. Speakers at the celebration echoed Wagner and said that the Class of 2022 pushed through more challenging issues during their time at GW with two years of virtual instruction, more than any previous graduating classes ever had to deal with.
Wagner said graduates should celebrate the accomplishment of persevering through their undergraduate education despite any losses they may have faced. She said the Class of 2022 should be grateful to faculty mentors and family members who assisted them throughout their time at GW.
“I want you to turn your mind to the future and imagine what gifts of labor and love will you give to your community, however you define it,” Wagner said.
Students who assisted Wagner in organizing the “In America: Remember” flag installation at the National Mall, an exhibition commemorating COVID-19-related deaths, nominated Wagner to speak at the ceremony.
She said when she was a doctoral student she realized she would struggle to pay for a cap and gown, but a friend of one of the committee members who reviewed her dissertation gave their regalia to Wagner because they wanted to hand the graduation items down to a graduating student. Wagner said she will replicate their act of kindness and hand down her regalia to a graduating student once she leaves the University.
“I hope she, too, will treasure it not only for the silver folds, but for the opportunity she also will have at the end of her career to pass it along to another stranger just starting out,” Wagner said.
CCAS divides its graduation programs into two undergraduate celebrations, one celebration for majors like economics and political science and the second celebration for majors like chemistry and history.
Evangeline Downie, the associate dean for research and strategic initiatives, presented the Robert W. Kenny Prize for Innovation in Teaching of Introductory Courses, to Sara Matthiesen, an assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.
Downie presented the Columbian Prize for Teaching and Mentoring Advanced Undergraduate Students, an award for exceptional mentorship of undergraduate students, to Randi Gray Kristensen, an assistant professor in the University Writing Program.
Philip Parel, CCAS distinguished scholar for the class of 2022, said the graduating class has been able to overcome any challenge, like spending about half of their undergraduate career online due to the pandemic. He said the class of 2022 will face a larger set of challenges as they enter the real world like the growing threat of climate change, global refugee crises and rising levels of world hunger.
“No matter the obstacle before us, I’m confident that the safest hands are still our own,” Parel said.
Parel said his fear of being academically unsuccessful in GW’s competitive atmosphere forced him to focus solely on school throughout his freshman year, but after making close friends he learned how vibrant social life is a vital part of the college experience.
He said his mentor – Nehal Mehta, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Health – and the friends he made at GW, taught him that all GW students have an ingrained desire to serve their community.
“It’s in our blood to help others, and that’s what makes us unique as GW students,” Parel said.
After the graduating students lined up to receive their diplomas, Paul Wahlbeck, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, gave his closing remarks, highlighting the graduating class’ resilience through the pandemic, and the historic and unique nature of the time in which they are completing their education and entering the world.
“You came to GW because you’re driven, socially conscious, demanding and entrepreneurial,” Wahlbeck said. “You graduate, ready to become our future lawyers and politicians, educators and scientists, social workers, communicators and analysts.”
The ceremony concluded with the crowd of students and families on their feet singing the alma mater. Wahlbeck passed the school pennant to Parel, who carried it off the stage and through the sea of newly named graduates.
Sejal Govindarao contributed reporting.