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David Remnick speaks to Class of 2022 graduates at in-person commencement ceremony

David Remnick, a journalist, author and editor of The New Yorker, speaks at Rutgers—New Brunswick's 2022 commencement ceremony.  – Photo by Courtesy of Nick R

David Remnick, a journalist, author and editor of The New Yorker, spoke to graduates from the Class of 2022 on May 15 at the Rutgers—New Brunswick commencement ceremony at SHI Stadium on Busch campus in addition to other members of the Rutgers community.

University President Jonathan Holloway said that it felt good to be able to welcome students, their families and members of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees to the University’s first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019 after the challenges of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

He also mentioned the importance of reflecting on the undergraduate experience and expressing gratitude by thanking those who have helped graduates get to where they are today.

“Each of you knows you are here because of hard work, brainpower, determination and a mixture of prayers, tears and laughter,” Holloway said. “I’m talking about your mothers, your fathers, your aunts and uncles, your completely annoying brothers and sisters, your sweet abuelita, who always had a piece of candy in her purse, or perhaps your abuelito, who was generous with unsolicited life advice.”

He said that graduates should reflect on their education, their friends, the connections they have made on campus and even heartbreak, each of which contributed to their undergraduate experience as a whole.

“As you carry Rutgers with you into the world, hold your head up high, remember everyone who helped you along the way, reach out to help those that need a bit more assistance and, finally, touch the depths of truth,” Holloway said. “Don’t forget when you leave why you came. Congratulations, Class of 2022.”

Remnick began his speech by congratulating the Class of 2022 and acknowledging the social, political and other barriers that graduates have faced, including the pandemic.

He discussed his position as a journalist in highly-censored Moscow during the 1980s and how the fall of the Soviet Union contributed to a sort of historical awakening and rearrangement of society, which is far from complete.

“While you’re rightly thinking today about your own individual futures, the search for good and interesting work, the possibility of new relationships, while you’re trying to figure out your lives as soon as you get out of these extremely hot gowns, you are confronted by quite a different world,” Remnick said.

He said that a defining characteristic of society today is fragility — including democracy, economic security and even Earth, itself.

As one of the most diverse universities in the country, Rutgers could and should serve as a model for other institutions, though notions of diversity are still spurned by many, Remnick said.

He discussed former President Barack Obama’s election as an important milestone in combating racism and promoting diversity, though the nation still has a long way to go, given its history of slavery, he said.

“We certainly did not witness a post-racial America,” Remnick said. “We saw the bubbling up — the bubbling over — of a toxic strain of bigotry in this country, a strain that’s always been there.”

Each of these factors contributes greatly to the vulnerability of American ideals, and at the same time, climate-related disasters such as wildfires in California and melting glaciers demonstrated the fragility of the natural world, he said.

In addition, Remnick discussed the Constitution, which despite its lack of inclusion for women and Black citizens, provided a basic legal and political framework for a country that has the ability to change for the better.

“Freedom is fragile — freedom is rare,” he said. “As we have discovered so recently and so painfully, freedom is provisional.”

He connected this realization to a trend of decreasing faith in American democracy that coincides with increased hatred and intolerance across the nation and the threat of authoritarian government.

Though there has been progress, many Americans are still left behind and left out, Remnick said. This is where graduates come in as they enter the world and contribute to societal improvements that will one day better society.

“Not only are we here to celebrate the accomplishments of your years at Rutgers, but to anticipate the astonishing things you will do in the greater world — a world that’s long been imagined and the one that you richly, at long last, deserve,” he said.

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