Being a college chancellor comes with a calendar bursting at the seams with meetings and functions, issues to address, decisions to make and budgets that never go as far as you’d hope.
But there’s a moment every year that makes it all worth it: commencement.
Every June, I have the honor of shaking the hands of the graduates of the Seattle Colleges as they cross the stage and accept their diplomas, formally congratulating them on the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
For graduates, I’m sure that handshake is just a mere moment in a sea of activity and celebration. For me, the handshake represents the transformational power of education and the ability to persevere, a recognition for many whose humble beginnings resemble my own growing up in China.
But that moment won’t happen this year. Nor will many of the other traditions that remind graduates how much they are loved and how proud we are of their accomplishments.
And yet, the very special class of 2020 deserves to be celebrated, perhaps more than any other in modern memory.
So in lieu of those handshakes and hugs, I ask you join me in a moment of reflection on the accomplishments of this year’s graduating class.
These graduates, whether finishing high school, college, an associate degree or a master’s, have proven themselves unstoppable. They have faced a challenge that none of us could imagine a few short months ago — a gauntlet of mental exhaustion, uncertainty, what-ifs and closed doors.
They have adapted as the routines that defined their lives just a few months ago frayed and then unraveled.
And they succeeded.
What these students have achieved is unprecedented, and while I am fiercely proud of all of them, I hope you’ll indulge me in a special recognition of the students our faculty and staff work to serve every day and whose hands I won’t get to shake this year: the graduates of the Seattle Colleges.
To me, Seattle Colleges’ 2020 graduates offer the very definition of an unbreakable spirit. These are students who fight the odds in the best of times. Almost half are the first in their family to attend college. Eighty percent work more than 25 hours a week to support their education, and many work full-time or more. I have had the honor of congratulating countless graduates who finished their education while parenting, or overcoming homelessness, or learning English as their second or third language. And this year they did it as the entire world ground to a halt around them.
While we can’t honor these students with the typical traditions, it is incumbent upon our entire community to support them. Not just for their benefit, but for ours. Their spirit is one we need in our community, businesses and classrooms.
If you are able, I ask you to create opportunities for 2020 graduates in any way you can. Whether that means creating job openings, internships or simply making time for informational interviews and advice, this class deserves your respect. These graduates are a precious resource. As we face a world of unknowns, their grit and adaptability will help us find our way forward.
And finally, graduates, a message to you: keep going. Be confident in your education and your value. Keep looking forward, keep reaching out to those who can help you take your next step. These next few months may be slower than you hoped and harder than you planned, but we are here to support you.
Graduates, the choices you have made — big and small — are what made you unstoppable.
Hold close to your winning spirit. We can’t wait to see the future you will create.