Clark University merged the virtual with the traditional to honor and celebrate 883 graduates at the University’s 116th Commencement on Sunday afternoon.
The ceremony featured musical performances, video montages, and messages of congratulations, pride, and encouragement that were livestreamed from Tilton Hall on Clark’s website and on Facebook Live. No on-campus public event was held this year in accordance with safety protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clark conferred 465 bachelor’s degrees, 379 master’s degrees, and 39 doctoral degrees at the ceremony.
In keeping with long-standing tradition, soaring bagpipe music heralded the ceremony’s start. From five podiums in Tilton Hall, arranged to adhere to social distancing requirements, a series of speakers urged the graduates to advance into their post-college lives with the same degree of fortitude, flair for ingenuity, and spirit of compassion that they’ve exhibited throughout their Clark careers, no more so than in their historic final semester at Clark.
Ross Gillman ’81, chair of the Board of Trustees, greeted the online audience and acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances under which the graduates were completing their time at Clark. He told them the pandemic is “one of the many curveballs that will be thrown at you over the course of your lives. I can assure you that my four years at Clark both prepared me, and enabled me, to not only face whatever challenges have arisen, but to overcome them with confidence and enthusiasm. I know you will find that to be the case in your own lives.”
President David Angel requested a moment of silence and reflection for the more than 300,000 people worldwide who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
In his remarks, President Angel told the graduates, “We dedicate this ceremony to you, our graduating students. We do so with joy in our hearts, a sense of awe for all you have accomplished during your time at Clark, and a passionate belief in the lives of purpose, curiosity, love, and continued growth that lie ahead for each and every one of you. For this moment, in this present, we are as one in our appreciation of your accomplishments.”
He emphasized that while Clark has long been fertile ground for individual aspirations and achievements, it’s as a community that the University thrives. “[Clark is] 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. Clark graduates throughout the decades have made a difference, and we are proud and excited to welcome you to this distinguished alumni community.”
Clark professors dearly missed their normal interactions with students in the spring semester, Professor Gino DiIorio, chair of the faculty, told the graduates. “We watch you grow academically, socially, politically, in small classroom settings, on the athletic field, in the science labs, and on stage. I don’t think we took that for granted. But if we ever did, I know we’ll never take it for granted again.”
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Betsy Huang, associate provost and dean of the college, urged the graduates to consider what their post-pandemic “normal” should look like. What, she asked, are the things should be changed, or restored, or abandoned?
“At Clark, we have equipped you with all that you need to write a better normal. We have empowered you to write a better script,” she said. “Whatever you decide, we know that a future written by Clarkies is bound to be filled with love and care for our fellow humans, respect and curiosity for the natural world we live in, and justice for the most vulnerable,” she said. “Because artful decency is the Clark way.”
Yuko Aoyama, associate provost and dean of research and graduate studies, noted, “This year, in particular, reminds us that our individual actions matter, that our rights as voters matter, and that all of us, regardless of our specialization, matter most as collaborators,” she said. “Make this experience a strength of yours, one that reinforces your confidence. Believe it: You will thrive.”
In prerecorded remarks, the day’s student speakers spoke of traveling thousands of miles to study at Clark — Simran Achpal, MSPC ’20, from India, and Maha Akbar ’20 from Pakistan — and to find themselves challenged, embraced, and inspired once they arrived.
Achpal counseled her classmates never to hesitate when pursuing their personal joy.
“We all tell ourselves that we will be happy when we finish that exam, when we get into college, when we get that job,” she said. “Today, let’s ask ourselves why our happiness always comes with a prefix. Let’s decide one thing: Happiness was meant to be prefix-less. We were meant to seize every fleeting moment that unfolds before us.”
Akbar marveled at the resilience and empathy shown by her classmates in response to the pandemic and sees it as a harbinger of consequential things to come. “I have full faith in our ability to tackle challenges during our present and our future. And I implore you to continue with the same kindness and compassion.”
Sunday’s ceremony featured a duet by Miles Tuttle, a master of public administration student, and his sister, Aurianna Tuttle, the star of “A Night with Janis Joplin” on BroadwayHD. The two performed the song “A Million Dreams” from the film “The Greatest Showman.” Also, the student a cappella group Clark Keys presented a moving rendition of “Show Me Love,” and the original music of composer and pianist Joel Helander ’15 accompanied the scroll of the graduates’ names.
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President Angel noted that he is retiring after a 33-year career at Clark, 10 of those years as president. But when the time is right and it is safe to do so, he assured the graduates, he and his wife Jocelyne will return to campus to join them for a “celebration under the stars that all of you so richly deserve.”
“Be safe, be well, and do good.”
For photo and video highlights from the May 24 virtual Commencement ceremony, as well as a showcase celebrating the accomplishments of the Class of 2020, visit clarku.edu/commencement.