'You were channeling something that runs deeply on our campus'
President Brian Sandoval tells Winter Commencement grads they are a class that has found truths and expected the University to do the same
(Note: Below is text from President Brian Sandoval's Winter 2020 Commencement address, delivered virtually to the members of the Winter Commencement class on Dec. 5, 2020.)
Class of 2020 … I’m honored and excited to be here with you today.
Thank you for allowing me to say a few words on your special day.
There are a lot of people who are proud of you. We need to take a moment to acknowledge the unfailing support you’ve received from your family and friends, whose encouraging words and helpful nudges always reminded you that you could do it.
We also need to thank the faculty and staff of the University. Our faculty and staff are the lifeblood of our institution. They impart knowledge. They challenge you. They provide direction and understanding. They, too, were always there for you.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the vital role these people played in your accomplishment. Class of 2020, please join me in applauding your family, friends, and the University’s faculty and staff, who have helped you reach graduation (lead applause).
The past year has been challenging, to say the least. We’ve faced a pandemic that disrupted every aspect of our lives. In March, instruction and many operations shifted to remote delivery. As you were preparing to enter the final stretch of your academic careers, you discovered you needed to stretch yourself even further, and have become even more stronger and resilient than you ever thought possible.
Sometimes when you are living in history, you don’t realize you’re making it. I truly believe this was one of those times for all of you.
It would’ve been easy to call it quits. To let the pandemic take on an even more outsized influence than it already had. Instead, you kept moving forward. Although there were some tough days, you retained your optimism and hope for the future.
I believe you were channeling something that runs deeply on our campus.
I’d like to take you back in history, to the influenza epidemic of 1918. That was a terrible, fatal time in American history. About 675,000 Americans lost their lives. Nevada and our University weren’t immune.
In fall 1918, the epidemic hit Reno. On Oct. 11, 1918, University President Walter Clark issued the following order:
“Beginning (on Oct. 11) a military guard will be set about campus and no one will be allowed to go from the campus or come on the campus except by express permission.” The University said the order was needed to “check the spread.”
The quarantine on campus was lifted about a month later. Still, it felt like the world was falling apart. No one was sure what the post-World War I world would even look like.
There was uncertainty.
This is where the students of this University stood up.
They generated the resources to improve healthcare on campus. They wore masks. They did what needed to be done.
Just as today ASUN is looking out for the wellbeing of our students during a pandemic, the students of 1919 were doing the same thing.
In May 1919, the Class of 1919 graduated.
A headline in the Reno Evening Gazette wrote of the Class of 1919: “Class of ’19 Passed Through Prosperity, War, Epidemic and Disorganization, Graduates Through Miracle.”
I don’t know if it was a miracle. I do know, that of the 22 graduates who received bachelor’s degrees, and the two who received advanced degrees, many of them went on to improve our world.
Many took the challenge they’d weathered as a profound personal call.
They were people like Isabelle Slavin, who over the coming decades became a women’s rights leader in Nevada;
They were people like Frank Harriman, who had been student body president, enlisted for the war, then returned to campus to finish his degree. His family established a trust with the University to help students whose academic careers were interrupted by unforeseen events;
They were people like Laura Louise Ambler, who by 1922 was the Press Secretary for the Committee on International Cooperation To Prevent War while she was also becoming one of only a handful of women at that time to earn a journalism degree from Columbia College in New York. Laura later in life became one of the oldest volunteers Vista – our domestic Peace Corps – had ever seen during the late 1960s.
These were people who knew in their hearts, they were going to be better for what they had experienced in their young lives. They also knew they were going to do better, for others, throughout their lives.
Now it’s your turn! It’s your time. All of you have this within yourselves as well. You’ve developed skill sets that are going to help you lead others. The adaptability you’ve shown demonstrates that you will not only understand the new normal, you will help others understand it in your workplaces and in your communities. Instead of hiding from it, you will lead us through it.
One of the gifts of this class has been that you’ve helped our institution grow in important ways. We are facing a national reckoning on race, on social injustice, on income and education inequality, on fundamental notions of what we believe our country is based upon.
You’ve helped us begin this important work. You expect us to look toward change. You want us to find new ways that will guide our institution in being a place where all students are heard and valued.
I promise you: We can and we will.
Now go out and do great things.
Find the ways you know will help us understand who we are and what we, as a society, are capable of.
Keep demonstrating to all of us why you are all so uniquely and unabashedly ready to make your mark on the world.
Class of 2020 … on behalf of the entire University of Nevada, Reno … it gives me great pride to offer you congratulations on your truly magnificent achievement.
You’ve earned this moment. I know you are going to make it count. We are proud of you!