The morning rain let up just in time for the start of Clark University’s 115th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, on the Jefferson Academic Green. The University awarded degrees to 1,081 graduates (555 bachelor’s, 501 master’s, and 25 doctorates).
Steven Swain ’89, outgoing chair of the University Board of Trustees, welcomed attendees and introduced President David P. Angel.
“The difficult challenges facing our world today require courage, creativity, determination, resilience, partnership, and vision. Those of us who have spent time with Clark graduates feel optimistic about the future,” Angel said. “The differences you have made on our campus — your Clark stories — inspire us with confidence that you, as Clark graduates, will change our world for the better.
“I proudly and passionately affirm our common cause as Clarkies to be a community of courageous thinkers and resilient doers, a community that seeks unabashedly to change the world for the better, and to be a place of purpose guided by values of equity, justice, compassion, rigor, and excellence.”
Jeffrey Lurie ’73, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, winners of the 2018 Super Bowl, delivered the commencement address. He spoke of his days at Clark, when his passion for Boston sports teams and the Grateful Dead coincided with a desire to approach his education from a fiercely individualized perspective. Clark, he noted, has always been a place where “there was no mold.”
“Looking around the world and our own country right now, it’s hard to imagine a moment when the habits of mind and heart that you’ve been developing at Clark have been more needed or essential,” Lurie said. “We see the dysfunction of democratic systems and the rise of autocrats around the globe; the dangerous appeal of a nationalism and nativism that demonizes those who are different, devalues free speech and press, and uses fear and anger to divide us instead of applying facts and reason to find common ground.”
Lurie said that during his time at Clark there also was sharp division in the country, fueled by debates over the Vietnam War and the draft, racial injustice, and social inequality. When he graduated in the spring of 1973, he recalled, “the country was riveted by the Senate Watergate hearings and a president who put journalists at the top of his enemies list and defied Congressional subpoenas investigating obstruction of justice.”
Lurie talked about the values that define a person and their place in the world.
“I can’t emphasize enough how the qualities that make us uniquely human are more essential than ever. That means emotional intelligence, empathy, and appreciation for the people not only in your own family, but those you choose to be with in every facet of your life and work,” he said.
Lurie spoke about the importance of unconditional love, which he first experienced from his mother, and then witnessed on the football field when the Philadelphia Eagles faced a crucial moment in the 2018 Super Bowl.
“Last year, when our great backup QB Nick Foles went into the huddle with two minutes left in the game to start a drive that we needed to win the Super Bowl, you know what he said? Not ‘Let’s go do this,’ but simply, ‘I love you guys,’” Lurie said. “Maybe it sounds hokey, but what could be more freeing of the best you have inside you than knowing you’re loved regardless of what happens?”
Lurie recalled his mother’s resilience when she was widowed at 33 and had to raise three children, one of whom had profound autism, and the resilience he’s seen in some of the Eagles players, some of whom grew up poor or homeless. He told the graduates that the most effective problem-solving groups are composed of people who have mutual empathy, trust, and respect. Lurie talked about what Buddhism refers to as the “beginner’s mind.”
“Great scholars experience it as the capacity to approach every question as new and unsettled — and every answer as only raising new questions to explore. That’s a mindset I learned at Clark that has continued to serve me well throughout my life,” he said.
In his parting words, Lurie reminded the graduates of the importance of being grateful.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to slow down and allow ourselves to feel grateful, even for the most mundane daily experience; because [life] really is so fragile,” he said.
Lurie received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony.
The University also conferred honorary degrees upon Martha C. Nussbaum, Ph.D., Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, whose scholarship ranges from the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and literature to modern political theory and policy; and Robert Stevenish, a longtime member of the Clark Board of Trustees who’s been an impactful leader in the corporate retail world at companies including Modell’s Sporting Goods, Trilegiant Corporation, Netmarket, and Fedco.
In her address to the Graduate School, Dr. Nussbaum noted Clark’s history of celebrating unconventional thought, dating as far back as 1909 when the University hosted Sigmund Freud for his only public lectures in the United States.
Nussbaum urged the graduates to adopt a reasoned Socratic approach as they form their opinions and enter into public discourse.
“It’s obvious that democracy needs good theoretical and empirical work of many types. We should insist on this and object to the frequent denigration of fact and of science itself in our current political climate,” Nussbaum said. When people devote themselves to analyzing issues from pro and con stances “they attain a new degree of clarity about what they themselves favor. And they also attain a new respect for opponents, since they see the opposing position not as a rival sports team to be defeated, but as a structure of reasons, to be taken apart and criticized in a civil manner.”
While respectful discourse may seem like a relic, she said, it’s important “to remember and event to enjoy the fact that there may be better arguments and conclusions than your own.”
Antonella Davi of Manhattan delivered the senior address. Davi spoke about being a first-generation college student and a first-generation American, and described her interest in pursuing a major in political science.
“In my sophomore year, I was old enough to vote for the first time, so I did, in a Presidential election that did not quite go as I planned,” she said. “Suddenly, everything seemed up in the air, the news cycle was hysteric, we were getting doomsday predictions from every pundit you can think of, the Internet was on fire, but at least I finally knew what I wanted to major in.”
Davi said other students changed their majors, and their career paths, in response to what they saw happening around them, and she explained the wider impact of those decisions.
“It’s the difference between just looking out for yourself and understanding that every single one of your actions has a reaction, and that you are responsible for making sure that those reactions add something to the society around you,” she said.
Davi focused her speech not on beginnings or endings, but rather, the “unsung hero — the middle.”
“Middles,” she said “define who we are” and matter because “how you get somewhere is often more important than actually getting there.
“This is just one chapter of a very, very long middle. I’m so glad I could spend it with all of you here,” she said.
Ayodele M. Agboola, who received a master’s degree in geographic information sciences for development and the environment, delivered the Graduate School address. He reflected on how fearful and overwhelmed he felt the first time he made the 5,156-mile journey to the U.S., far from his home in Lagos, Nigeria, and how confident and comfortable he became at Clark.
“I wish I could take back those times I spent worrying about what lies ahead of me as an international student,” he said. “Clark has made me feel very much at home.”
Agboola said that Clark made him appreciate the power of diversity by exposing him to “a myriad of cultures.”
“Reflecting on the time I served as the international students’ representative in the IDCE [International Development, Community, and Environment] department, celebrating the Asian culture, African/Caribbean events, and Indian traditions all enhanced my global integration experience,” Agboola said. “I had never thought of the importance of foreign languages and the possibilities of speaking a few until I was in a class where I was the only one who understood my language.”
Agboola told his fellow graduates to “achieve outstanding success, invest in the system that brought you this far and do everything in your power to protect the environment,” and ended with the Yoruba phrase, “Ipade wa bi oyin,” which means, “See you all on a joyful note.”