Monumental Alumni send off graduating Class of 2022 at Commencement

Media Credit: Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor

Commencement speaker Elana Meyers Taylor told graduates although they may face hate and ignorance after graduation, they must be resilient and continue to pursue their inspirations. 

Elana Meyers Taylor is familiar with failure. 

After failing to make the U.S. Olympic softball team roster in 2008 and learning the team would be the last to compete in the Olympic event, the GW alumna switched gears, took her parents’ advice to pursue bobsledding and eventually made the Olympic bobsled team. She went on to win five Olympic medals, becoming the most decorated Black Winter Olympics athlete in history. 

And as Meyers Taylor spoke in front of the 6,200 graduates and their families and friends at Commencement Sunday, she encouraged the crowd to see failure as an opportunity to bounce back. 

“Now, with the grace of perspective that comes from the passing of time, I know this is one of the best things that could have ever happened to me,” she said. “Had I not failed on that day, it’s a virtual certainty that this girl who was born in California, raised and still lives in Atlanta, would never have found the inside of a bobsled.”

Officials conferred degrees upon the class of 2022, congratulated them on their graduation and encouraged students to apply their education to their own biases amid global crises like rising hate, war and polarization to make the world a better place. Monumental Alumni Dana Bash and Chuck Todd accepted honorary degrees, and Meyers Taylor received the President’s Medal, the highest honor the University can bestow.   

Meyers Taylor told graduates although they may face hate and ignorance after graduation, they must be resilient and continue to pursue their inspirations. 

“As you leave here today, know that there will be places that you are not wanted, there will be people who don’t welcome you, haters gonna hate,” Meyers Taylor said. “You may face racism, sexism or countless other permutations of ignorance. When that happens to you – listen to Taylor, ‘shake it off’ and choose to drive down whatever path inspires you.”

Lia DeGroot, The Hatchet’s former editor-in-chief, presented an honorary degree to Bash, CNN’s chief political correspondent. Bash said in her acceptance speech that as a journalist, it is crucial to keep an open mind while traveling across the United States and the world.

“Even if you’re not planning on going into journalism, even if you’re hoping to be an accountant or a doctor or a teacher or anything else, the idea of opening your mind and opening your heart to people in places you aren’t familiar with is critical,” she said.

Daniel Niewoehner, a graduating senior majoring in political communication, presented the honorary degree to Todd, the political director at NBC News. Todd said GW provides a unique opportunity for students to interact with political opponents as “three-dimensional” human beings, not just “two-dimension caricatures.” 

“Let’s not forget that others who don’t agree also feel unheard,” he said. “What I appreciated about GW, and what sets this school apart, is this institution always has and I think always will be a place where everyone feels heard and everyone feels welcome.”

Interim University President Mark Wrighton conferred degrees to the Class of 2022 at the ceremony Sunday. He said students have grown “intellectually, emotionally and socially” during their time at GW despite struggles brought about by the pandemic. The class of 2022 became the first and only class to graduate after reverting from in-person to online college life and returning to the physical campus once again.

“You have engaged others very different from yourselves,” he said. “You have taken bold risks and succeeded, and you have been resilient in this time of challenge associated with COVID-19.”

Wrighton said graduating students should maintain the aspirations they had when first starting at the University. He said a GW education has given graduating students leadership skills to help solve “the world’s most pressing challenges.”

“Every member of the Class of 2022 can use what you’ve learned at the George Washington University to uplift communities and serve the public good,” he said. “I charge you to remain resilient.”

Provost Chris Bracey conducted the majority of the ceremony and held a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of the white supremacist shooting in Buffalo Saturday. Wrighton sent an email to community members Sunday offering his condolences to the victims and acknowledging the harm that the targeted, racist hate crime brought the Black community. 

“As leaders, we must condemn such hate and violence publicly and forcefully, and we must actively work to fight the racism that many experience, particularly members of our African American community,” Bracey said at the ceremony.

He said what matters is how GW graduates apply their education to their lives “beyond the university.” He said graduates should “continue stepping up” to address global problems.

“Over the course of your lifetime, you will of course keep learning many new things in your discipline as the economy continues to change rapidly and demand new skills and training,” he said to graduating students. “But you will always remain a curious student of the world asking new questions, adding to your toolbox of knowledge and skills and impacting the world around you.”

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights reminded graduating students that they have the support of their friends, family and fellow alumni as they enter the professional world. She said students have gained knowledge, skills and “meaningful and lasting relationships” with peers and mentors during their time at GW.

“All of these aspects of your education have been crucial in broadening and deepening your understanding of the world,” she said. “And they will allow you to make the most of your career path moving forward.”

Vishva Bhatt, a graduating senior majoring in international affairs, said in her speech that GW students are reminded daily that they are “part of something bigger.” She said students come from a variety of backgrounds and frequently challenge one another’s biases.

“Something we all share is a passion, a passion to make a difference,” she said. “At GW students are not afraid to step up and ask the tough questions and seek the answers.”

Bhatt said despite the challenges of virtual learning during the pandemic, college was a time to explore her identity and grow. She said graduates should continue to challenge themselves and each other to admit when they don’t know something.

“It is up to us to continue to explore how to intervene to stand up for what is right,” she said.

Ianne Salvosa contributed reporting.

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