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'You demonstrated the resiliency and adapatability we've always known resided in each one of you'

President Johnson's message to Spring 2020 graduates: We live not just for ourselves, but for everyone

(Editor's Note: As part of last weekend's virtual Winter Commencement, the Spring 2020 Commencement was also held. The Spring 2020 Commencement, due to COVID-19, was not held in May. Graduates had the option of participating in a special Spring 2020 ceremony held on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Among the featured speakers was Marc Johnson, whose tenure as president of the University ran from 2011 until the end of September, when he returned to the faculty. Below is text from his remarks for the Spring 2020 graduates.)

Class of 2020 … It’s my honor to be with you today as we celebrate your spring commencement.

Last spring would have been the University’s130th Commencement.

Let’s attach that number to today’s celebration. Because all of the members of the Class of 2020 belong to our University’s long and proud history.

Your accomplishments, particularly since they were attained during a historic pandemic, are worth celebrating and remembering.

First, let’s offer thanks to some important people.

All of the family members and friends who have provided love, support and encouragement.

The faculty and staff of the University who have been there for you. Their work is essential to all of us reaching our highest potential.

Usually during my commencement remarks I pause at this point and ask the audience to offers applause for these worthy people. Today let’s do that. Class of 2020, please join me in applauding your family, your friends, and faculty and staff who have helped you along the way.

Thank you.

The spring of 2020 was an uncertain time. By mid-March, COVID-19 was in northern Nevada. You left campus for spring break. Then you were asked not to come back to campus.

Instruction pivoted to online delivery.

The vast majority of University faculty and staff provided services remotely.

You spent your final weeks on Zoom. You delivered your assignments, tests and finals electronically.

We’ve long touted “learning by doing” at our University. Social distance became a part of our University vocabulary instead.

But here is why we are so proud of you. You made these modifications. You forged ahead. You persevered.

Even if you were in a Zoom room, peering at the faces of your fellow students in those small boxes – and unlike your elders, who can’t seem to ever master the unmute button – you quickly became fluent in online learning.

You let us know that you even though you were learning remotely, you still craved the interaction and engagement that has become one of the hallmarks of an education at the University.

You demonstrated the resiliency and adaptability that we’ve always known resided in each one of you. Our faculty and staff were exceptional as well. They too, had to adapt very quickly.

You did not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop you.

Although the world seems uncertain now, there is an equal amount of optimism and hope that is available to us all.

First, I believe you are well-prepared to face a world that is forever changed. Since coming to our University, you’ve become engaged citizens – the citizens you pledged to be when you recited the “Nevada Oath” during your New Student Welcoming Ceremony four years ago.

You’ve completed your academic objectives during one of the most uncertain and challenging moments the world has ever faced. Now you’re University of Nevada, Reno graduates. Now you possess the confidence to press onward.

Second, as the COVID crisis subsides, I hope you have the opportunity to reflect on your views regarding the importance of science and the importance of public health. I hope you are able to draw important lessons that will help guide your future.

We often define ourselves by who we hope to be. The experiences that you’ve had since last spring are helping you bring into clear focus the person that you are. Specifically, how your actions have helped the community of which you are a part.

We’ve come to find out that we live not just for ourselves. We live … for everyone.

COVID has reaffirmed how important it is to remain informed and well-versed in matters such as public health, science, and the discernment of information. Stephen Hawking once told his children to “remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”

This has to be a moment like that for all of us. If humanity is to continue to thrive, we must look up, instead of down.

To this end, remember:

Keep an open mind;

Seek knowledge;

Value education;

Champion the role of science in our lives;

Stay informed.

Live not only for yourself, but for others.

One of the highest honors during my time as president occurred a few months ago, when I was asked to deliver this welcome to all of you. Truly, I was moved beyond words when asked to share this celebration with you.

We have been through a lot together. Throughout it all, I’ve admired your tenacity, your strength, your empathy, your ability to come together in times of challenge.

Today we come together in celebration.

Class of 2020 … members of one of our most memorable graduating classes … good luck with all that you do.

Remember that no matter how far you travel in your lives, no matter where you are or what you do, your University will always be extremely proud of you.

Congratulations again on this wonderful day.


University President Marc Johnson
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